It was Lincoln’s Birthday. There was no school. My mother let me sleep. Our apartment was cold. I had the bedroom. My bed was against the radiator. We did that wintertime. We lived on Ninth Avenue. It was up four flights. The wind came through the windows. My mother slept in the living room. We had a convertible sofa. It came from another apartment. Someone had died. The super sold it to her. The living room was colder. The wind came up the stairs. The hallways weren’t heated. My mother woke me. It was the same most days. She brought me toast. I had tea. My mother was from England. I always knew that. She said so. She had English habits. Her voice was different. She used English expressions. I did too. I stopped using them. That was in high school. Someone told me it was phony. I couldn’t keep using them.
My mother worked in coffee shops. She didn’t have regular days. Her shifts changed. It was better at Schrafft’s. That’s on 57th. She had the same schedule all week. She liked Schrafft’s. She liked the uniform. It was black and white. She liked the waitresses. A mother worked with her daughter. There were two sisters. The women customers dressed nicely. They wore jewelry. They had fur coats. That meant something to my mother. Looking proper was important, she said. Talking politely was important. Schrafft’s was busy. The tips were good. Thanksgiving to New Year’s was busier. The tips bought my Christmas present. She got me new clothes. If she had a good day she went shopping. She bought something special. Sometimes she bought a book. She liked to read. She liked books she could write in. The living room had a bookcase. She was filling it up. There were three shelves. They were halfway filled. She lost the job at Schrafft’s. Two customers complained. They smelled alcohol. It was on her breath. It happened once before. She was warned. This time was different. The manager said they’d let her go. I came home from school. She was crying. This happened other times. She said it didn’t mean anything. It was something women did, she said. I hated to see her cry. It was hard. Don’t be sad, I said. I’m not, she said, I’m ashamed. The same thing happened at Child’s. Now she was at a Bickford’s. It was up by Carnegie Hall.
My mother went to work. She left me a dollar. It was for lunch. She never told me what to get. She didn’t ask what I did with it. A hot dog at Nedick’s was good. I saved the change. I had a jar full of coins. It was in my room. My mother borrowed for the laundromat. She put the coins back. She’d break a dollar bill from it. Once she changed a five. I never counted the money. I’d lie in bed. I’d think about the jar. I hoped it was twenty dollars. It might be. I had two months until fourteen. I’d get working papers. I’d get a job. My mother would sign them. I hoped so. She always listened. She never said no right off. She thought about things. She thought overnight. I’d know in the morning.
Ninth Avenue had stores. The windows had pictures of Lincoln. I stopped at the record store. Lincoln’s picture was with the Beatles. They had a booth in the store. It closed. You listened to a record. You decided if you liked it. Those were 45’s. There were always kids after school. Four girls squeezed into the booth. It was supposed to be soundproof. You heard the girls singing. You heard them almost crying. They opened the door. Another girl squeezed in. You heard the song come out. I didn’t go in the store much. We didn’t have a record player. I never bought anything. I thought about working there. I’d show the owner my working papers. That would be a good job. The owner was there alone. Maybe he needed someone. Maybe other kids had the same idea. The store sold sheet music. Once I saw my mother. I looked in the window. She was looking at sheet music. I didn’t know why.
I was cold. I went in the bus station. I went the back way. I warmed up. My mother didn’t like Port Authority. It had a bad reputation, she said. She didn’t want me there. I went sometimes. I liked to look at the people. I looked at the newspaper stands. I liked the magazines. I looked where the buses were going. I wanted to go to Philadelphia. It was a nicer name than New York. I always walked fast. I kept my head down. I started doing it in the summer. I had nothing to do. I was walking on 42nd Street. I was by the movie theatres. A man grabbed me. He got me under the arm. I want to talk to you, he said. He told me he lived right near there. I was scared. I pulled my arm off. He tried to grab me again. I started running. I ran to Ninth Avenue. In Times Square you walk fast. Most times it’s crowded. You didn’t have to worry. The 42nd Street movies were a quarter. A guy at school warned me. Don’t go into them, he said, you’re a sitting duck. I didn’t want to be that. He said it was really bad at Playland. That’s the worst, he said. They get you in the back room. You end up in Chinatown, he said. You end up a slave. He sounded smart to me. He had a superior way of saying things. He said killing Kennedy was the beginning of World War III. We just didn’t know it yet, he said. He talked about World War III a lot.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish