And it was Henry with No Last Name, Henry the Blind who heard the wind and knew the cracks in the sidewalk and snuffed the dust of the night tenement, who gave the first warnings of things waiting on the stairs or too much midnight leaning heavy on the roof, or a wrong perspiration in the halls.
And here he was now, flattened back against the cracked plaster of the tenement entryway, with full night outside and in the halls. His eyes wobbled and shut, his nostrils flared, he seemed to bend a bit at the knees as if someone had struck him on the head. His cane twitched in his dark fingers. He listened, listened so hard that I turned to stare down the long cavernous hall to the far end of the tenement where the back door stood wide and more night waited.
“What’s wrong, Henry?” I said again.
“Promise you won’t tell Florianna? Fannie takes on fits, you tell her too much wrong stuff. Promise?”
“I won’t give her fits, Henry.”
“Where you been last few days?”
“I had my own troubles, Henry, and I was broke. I could have hitchhiked in, but, well.”
“Lots goes on in just forty-eight hours. Pietro, him and his dogs and birds and geese, you know his cats?”
“What about Pietro?”
“Someone turned him in, called the police. Nuisance, they said. Police come, take all his pets away, take him away. He was able to give some of them to folks. I got his cat up in my room. Mrs. Gutierrez got a new dog. When they led him out, Pietro, he was crying. I never heard a man cry so hard before. It was terrible.”
“Who turned him in, Henry?” I was upset myself. I saw the dogs adoring Pietro, I saw the cats and the geese that lovingly followed and the canaries on his bell-chiming hat and him dancing on street corners through half of my life.
“Who turned him in?”
“Trouble is, no one knows. Cops just come and said, ‘Here!’ and all the pets gone forever and Pietro in jail, a nuisance, or maybe he kicked up a fuss out front there, hit somebody, striking a cop. Nobody knows. But somebody did. That ain’t all…”
“What else?” I said, leaning against the wall.
“What about him?”
“He’s in the hospital. Booze. Someone gave him two quarts of the hard stuff; damn fool drank it all. What they call it? Acute alcoholism? If he lives tomorrow, it’s God’s will. No one knows who gave him the booze. Then there’s Jimmy, that’s the worst!”
“God,” I whispered. “Let me sit down.” I sat on the edge of the steps leading up to the second floor. ‘No News or What Killed the Dog.”
“An old seventy-eight rpm record when I was a kid. “No News or What Killed the Dog.” Dog ate burned horseflakes from the burned-down barn. How did the barn burn down? Sparks from the house blew over and burned down the barn. Sparks from the house? From inside the house, the candles around the coffin. Candles around the coffin? Someone’s uncle died. On and on. It all ends with the dog in the barn eating the burned horseflakes and dying. Or, “No News or What Killed the Dog.” Your stories are getting to me, Henry. Sorry.”
“Sorry is right. Jimmy, now. You know how he sleeps from floor to floor nights, and once a week he just up and strips down and takes a bath in the third-floor tub? Or the first-floor washroom? Sure! Well last night he got in the full tub, drunk, turned over, and drowned.”
“Drowned. Ain’t that silly. Ain’t that a terrible thing to put on your obit-tombstone, save he won’t have a tombstone. Potter’s field. Found in a bathtub of dirty water. Turned over, so drunk he slept himself into the grave. And him with new false teeth just this week. And the teeth gone, how you figure that, when they found him in the tub! Drowned.”
“Oh my Christ,” I said, stifling a laugh and a sob in one.
“Yes, name Christ, God help us all.” Henry’s voice trembled. “Now, you see what I don’t want you to tell Fannie? We’ll let her know, one at a time, spread it out over weeks. Pietro Massinello in jail, his dogs lost forever, his cats driven away, his geese cooked. Sam in the hospital. Jimmy drowned.
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