There are times even now, when I awake at four o'clock in the morning with the terrible
fear that I have overslept; when I imagine that my father is waiting for me in the room
below the darkened stairs or that the shorebound men are tossing pebbles against my
window while blowing their hands and stomping their feet impatiently on the frozen
steadfast earth. There are times when I am half out of bed and fumbling for socks and
mumbling for words before I realize that I am foolishly alone, that no one waits at the
base of the stairs and no boat rides restlessly the waters of the pier.
At such times only the grey corpses on the overflowing ashtray beside my bed
bear witness to the extinction of the latest spark and silently await the crushing out of
the most recent of their fellows. And then because I am afraid to be alone with death, I
dress rapidly, make a great to-do about clearing my throat, turn on both faucets in the
sink and proceed to make loud splashing ineffectual noises. Later I go out and walk the
mile to the all-night restaurant.
In the winter it is a very cold walk, and there are often tears in my eyes when I
arrive. The waitress usually gives a sympathetic little shiver and says, `Boy, it must be
really cold out there; you got tears in your eyes."
"Yes," I say, "it sure is; it really is."
And then the three or four of us who are always in such places at such times
make uninteresting little protective chit-chat until the dawn reluctantly arrives. Then I
swallow the coffee, which is always bitter, and leave with a great busy rush because by
that time I have to worry about being late and whether I have a clean shirt and whether
my car will start and about all the other countless things one must worry about when
one teaches at a great Midwestern university. And I know then that that day will go by
as have all the days of the past ten years, for all the call and the voices and the shapes
and the boat were...