I wrote this piece right after I moved to Providence, RI in the early seventies. The beginning and end are missing. Why I called it BLACK SWAN escapes me. Not only was this my first submission it was also my first rejection--a rejection that really hurt. I got good and drunk at McGovern's on North Main. Thankfully, Aldebaran and the Providence Review accepted three of my early submissions otherwise I think I would have stopped writing.
I rewrote the interview scene and it became part of my collection's title story. So something good came from this mess.
Fragment from the story BLACK SWAN
The phone rang down the hall. He heard someone answer it.
“Baker! Baker! Baker!”
He slammed the bottle down, put on his trousers and walked into the hallway. The floor was cold.
“This is Mrs. Keller of the employment agency.”
“What time is it?”
“9:30. I hope I didn’t wake you.”
“No. I was up.”
“I’ve come across something you might be interested in. Something that better fits your talents. This is something that didn’t come through the regular channels. I’ve lined up an interview for you at Eleven this morning with the Whitney Magazine Company. There looking for a proofreader. It could develop into something. Will you be able to make it?”
“I’ll be there. Thanks for calling….”
“Oh, and Mr. Baker—Bob Whitney is an old friend….”
“And let me know how this one goes, will you?”
“Yes. Yes, I will.”
He hung up and waked back to his room. He needed the job, but the idea of being interviewed didn’t please him. For the jobs he had lately all you did was to show up at six-thirty, get chosen and that was all. Interviewers were always the same, men in worn blue suits that never smiled, asking the same questions, probing into the past for a nerve to twist. He lit a cigarette and wondered what it would be like to hurl himself at one of them. What sound would they make as he choked them. He decided he really didn’t care. He would go to the interviews, wait one more month, then leave and go to California.
He crushed it into the ashtray, then found his last clean yellow shirt in the closet. He crossed to the radiator and took the still damp socks from it. He began to wonder what California would be like. He could get a pet lizard and let it run about. He’d read about a famous writer who had a pet lizard running around his garden.
When he first saw Naomi she had one foot under her as she sat, hands busy across the keyboard of her electric typewriter. They were beautiful legs, he thought, tapering down to small, well-shaped ankles. She automatically slid the paper into a box next to her elbow, the bracelets on her writs jingling loudly, then dropped her eyes to the form he had placed on her desk.
“You’re a writer,” she said.
“I like to read.”
He could hear the sharp voice of a man on the telephone in the next room.
She smiled at him. It was an almost pretty smile, crinkling at the edges of her makeup.
“Mr. Whitney will be with you shortly. He’s tied up right now with a phone call. You see, he just got back from a vacation. He was in California to visit his son.”
“Does he have a pet lizard?”
“Everybody in California has a pet lizard.”
“They do? You’re kidding me.”
“I’m going to get one when I get out there. What do you think I should call it?”
“I don’t know. George.”
Naomi’s hand clicked the top of her lighter open and shut. He felt a slight muscle’s tremor tighten his jaw as he studied her. She was a tall girl, he could see that, her features softened by the neon office lights. Behind her he could see the stonewalls and small roofs of the city. In the broad gaps between the stone and the skyline was cluttered with rain.
“What do you do now? You didn’t fill it in.”
Rain smeared the window.
“A last job then.”
“Last job…washing dishes. I’ve been have trouble finding something permanent. I don’t like working. I like to write. I want to go to California.”
“I know,” she said. “And get a lizard.”
“Why a lizard?”
“It might be nice. I’ll ask your boss about it.”
The two phones on her desk rang at once. She disgustedly pushed a green button, then picked up a phone and listened, writing something down quickly. She pushed another button. A loud demanding voice shouted over the wire. She tried to smile, then doodled aimlessly on a pad while nodding her head for the benefit of the voice on the phone. She hung up and sighed.
“I’d like to be free of this office and go someplace like California. Things get so boring here sometimes. There are days when I just sit here and drink coffee until five thirty. And other days when I type until my fingers ache. It’s just like when I was married. That’s funny, isn’t it? I though being divorced and free again would change things. But no, the only thing that’s different is my child, a boy of four.”
The designs on the floor were like the chicken wire windows that walled them in. They looked at each other. The voice of the man on the telephone in the next room rose to a whine.
We had good times together. We really did,” said Naomi. He liked the zoo a lot and we’d to go there all the time, especially after David was born. He liked to be seen wheeling the child around. On Saturdays he'd load us up into his old station wagon and off we'd go to the zoo. He was a machinist before he got laid off. We had some good times, we really did. And he’d always buy this yellow popcorn and a bag of peanuts. He just disappeared one day and I never saw him again.
It was near midnight as Baker lay in his bed looking up at the wall. It looked the same as always, a dull gray-black.
“I don’t know if I still love him,” said Naomi. “I’ve kept the name for the sake of the child.”
“I don’t want to hear.”
“But it’s important.”
“Is it?” He said reaching for her. She didn’t resist and he kissed her breasts again.
“Have you decided what you are going to do now?”
“Don’t you think it’s about time?”
“I hadn’t thought about it.”
“God has something for everyone to do.”
“I’m not of his kingdom.”
“We all are of his kingdom.”
“Do you know what you want to do?”
“To do the best I can. To bring my child up right. To have a goal.”
He leaned over to kiss her.
“No, not now,” she said, turning away. “Not now.”