The Moon Over Central Square By Doug Holder
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Not rated by the Author.
A work in progress...
….This is a story I wrote 20 years ago.
The spring night was quiet for late in the week. Doug was at his typewriter again, as he had been for the past few days. He only left his small cave-like apartment to get the meager supply of groceries to sustain him. There was a sense of urgency to his writing now. Past 30, with nothing really worthwhile published, he felt his life at standstill. He glanced at his reflection in the mirror and saw the familiar slumped shoulders, balding crown and spotty beard. He shambled over to the cramped kitchen and got a glass of seltzer to relieve his dry mouth. The maddening dripping of the faulty faucet reminded him of the disrepair of his own life. He remembered Karen, his long-standing girlfriend, who left him because she felt he was too angry. He remembered shouting at her with the sarcastic rage he had perfected over the years. He realized she was probably right.
Outside in the hall he heard Kelly stagger in from another all night drinking bout. Kelley, a man about his own age, was on his way to be a confirmed alcoholic. He was a promising writer, graduating with an MFA at U/Mass Amherst about 8 years ago. Now he seemed to be mired in a state hospital job, and still had hopes about that “novel." Doug knew he couldn’t get any more work done this evening, as his intoxicated neighbor would undoubtedly blare his stereo. He needed to get some air, so he threw on an old tweed jacket and headed outside. He lived in Brighton, a section of Boston, toward the outskirts of the city. It was a mixed bag of staid and somewhat shabby Victorian houses and brownstones buildings, occupied by students and blue collar types. He didn’t know where he fit in here, probably some odd mixture of the two. Shamsky’s market was one of the variety of all night stores springing up all over the city. He went through the door and saw the usual frail looking college girl manning the register. He automatically said: “Hi,” but she was engrossed in some mundane textbook, and ignored his greeting. He had enough money for a bag of barbecued chips, and a sugar-laden soda. The college girl glumly took his money and said curtly: "Thank you." Feeling a bit lonely, he tried to start a conversation with her.
“You live around here?” he said.
“Why ya’ want to know?,” she answered, barely looking up.
“Forget it.” Who wanted to talk to this self-absorbed undergrad anyway.
He felt vaguely sick after eating this paltry snack. There was no alternative but to head back to his apartment. As he walked dowm the hallway he heard a thumpand saw Kelly’s door slighty ajar. He entered Kelly’s apartment where the room was filled with the smell of beer and burnt bacon and eggs. The stereo in the living room was belting out “Chicago, Chicago…it’s a helluva town!,” as sung by Sinatra, and Kelly was sprawled out on the worn sofa, fast asleep. Doug made sure the gas jets of his stove were shut, turned off his stereo and went back to his own place. He remembered he had to be at work tomorrow, so he figured he better get some sleep, since it was almost .
The next morning broke gray and depressingly bland. Doug showered, shaved, etc… and caught the subway to Harvard Square. His usual breakfast place was “Tasty’s”, and as always their was a cast of bleary-eyed characters nursing their cups of coffee on the stainless steel counter. He ordered a cup of coffee, flipped through "The Globe,” and was interrupted by an old acquaintance Byron Hargrave.
“Doug…how are you doing?”
“Oh…Byron, good to see you, what’s up?”
He glanced at Byron quickly. He looked more haggard than usual. The last he heard he was operating some Native American artifact store in the Square. Most of the items he had in the shop he got from a wholesaler from Taiwan.
“ Not bad Franklin. Sold the shop, and got rid of the ball and chain.”
His last recollection of the “ball and chain,” was a woman at least 10 years his junior, ( Byron being about 40) who did someresearch at the Widener library at Harvard.
“Yeah. To me she’s just another nerd in the square. Byron continued,” So what are you up to, still teaching?’
“ No. I got a gig at McFallow’s Hospital, on the psych. Unit. Pays not bad…get to read a lot.”
Hargrave barely acknowledged what Doug had just told him, and then went into a speel about his failed attempt to seduce some friend of the family, and the trials and travails his ex-wife was putting him through. He was finally winding down his tale of woe, and when Doug was ready to leave to catch the 73 bus to the hospital, Byron said: “ Listen I am throwing a little get-together at my place. I’m living in Central Square right off Mass. Ave. Why don’t you drop by if you have time?” He handed him a slip of paper with his address. Doug slipped it in his pocket and went on his way.
He worked at McFallow’s for almost 4 years now. At first he thught at most he would work there for one year. And why not? His writing back then was coming around, and no one with any brains could stand to work in the postion he was in for an extended length of time. However McFallow lulled him into a lazy complacency. It paid enough to live relatively comfortably, and the demands were minimal. He was called a “mental health counselor,” which was a vastly ambigious title. It alwaysrequired a lengthy explanation, as people would invariably ask:”What’s that?”, or the standard flip response “I could sure use you!" By this time he knew the job like the back of his hand. He knew the catch word and phrases to put in the client progress notes: “the patient’s mood was labile.”“she exhibited hypersexual and hyperverbal behavior." He developed the certain calm, dull and slightly patronizing tone of voice he used effectively with hysterical patients and family.
He walked into his cramped office, and slouched in a chair reading the current issue of “The New Yorker,” was ChesterfieldKent.
“Hello Douglas. I just figured I’d catch up on some reading, it’s rather noisy out there.’
When he first met Kent he thought he was from the British Isles. Kent, however, was Boston born and bred. In fact, he was from a working class section of Dorchester. He had excelled in his studies, did a stint at Oxford for a couple of semesters, and developed an affected English accent and manner. He was wearing the same worn Harris tweed, white oxford shirt, chinos, and bucks, all of which was his daily uniform.
“How’s the thesis going, Chet?”
“It’s going quite well Douglas. However I need to find more primary sources for my research. I think I need to some more work at the French Library…you know, om Marlborough St.”
Kent now in his late 30’s, had been working on his thesis for the last 10 years. He was a master of indecision. He was afraid to finish his arcane study because this would mean he would have to get on with his life. He was the perpetual student…common enough in this part of the woods. But now he was on the cusp of middleage, his paunch spilling over his belt and gray hair rudely starting to assert itself.
Kent looked at his watch and begged a goodbye, almost waddling out to the hallway. Doug leafed through the case histories on his desk. Out on the unit Cynthia Smilner walked by, her tight and shapely rear in full view. He tried to concentrate on the history on his desk:
Jerry, Leon.27 years old.College Graduate, current address271 Newbury St. Boston Mass.Apt 2. Etiology: Manic Depressive Illness. Atrophy of the left frontal lobe—nuerological damage due to ingestion of anti-freeze.”
He looked up again to the fading image of Smilner’s shapely ass. “Shit, he thought. How long has it been since I have been with a woman?” He had made some attempts as of late, but they didn’t seem to pan out. His memories of his failure both in and out of bed with Karen haunted him. His solitrary life was taking its toll. He noticed he was mumbling to himself more, and was even grateful when a pretty clerk threw him a perfunctory smile at a store.
He flicked on the radio and listened to Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser,” on the local university radio station. The music failed to stop the oppressive mood that was about to overtake him. Why did he look down on Kent? Wasn’t he headed in the same direction? Where was his writing going? Wasn’t he dealing with the same, tired themes of coming of age…you know, the innocent comes to the big bad city. What he needed was to get his mind off his trouble. He remembered Hargrave inviting him to his party this morning. Hargrave was a worm, and he knew what the crowd would be like. A bunch of stick-up-the-ass, ner-do-wells, who would talk about holistic healing, spiritual fulfillment or the best brand of wheat germ. Still…he might meet someone, some diversion, anything was better than this.
It was a Friday afternoon on a wind swept mid April day when Doug took the Red Line into Central Square, after getting out of work. Central Square, Cambridge was an oddsection of Cambridge located between Harvard and MIT. It seemed to be unaffected by the cancerous gentrification that was rampant across the city. No ‘cute’ boutiques or combination bookstores-eateries linedit’s gone-to-seed, neon-lit streets. The fashionably attired, rebokked, earphoned, earnest, intense denizens of more upscale neighborhoods were the exception here.
Young men with monstorous blaring portable radio swaggered down the street. A mixture of creole, Spanish, and Jive was the language here. People still sporting 60’s sensibilities walked with backpacks, long hair, and unruly beards into the “Harvest Food Coop,” or “Red Square Books." There was "Manny’s Army and Navy,” where one could score a wide variety of flannel shirts at rock bottom prices. “El Cheapo Used Records,” had an ample supply of dusty MoTown discs.
Amidst this hodgepodge of stores and rushing, jabbering people, Kelly was firmly entrenched at his usual chair at the "Plough and Stars" pub. The pub's walls were covered with photos of local Cambridge pols, and the minor personages who might have frequentd in years gone by. It has quite a legacy, a top shelf literary magazine "Ploughstones" was birthed over the bar, and the rock star Jennifer Mattins, and the Jazz crooner Lolita Galpazio cut their teeth here. The patrons seemed to be merchants from the general area, or residents of the neighboring YMCA. The seemed to be a down-at-the heels group for the most part, gazing at the depths of their beers, only rousing long enough to take long drags from their butts.
In contrast Kelly was animatedly holding court with the bartender:
"Laurel and Hardy, the true funny men of our times. Laurel was the skinny one, Hardy the fat one."
Doug knew that voice any where. It had that certain slurred, pedantic, and entitled quality, that Kelly affected whenever he had too much.
" You know there was a frienship for ya'... through thick and thin. In spite of their mishaps and flaws, they remained friends. It's not like today... all thie neurotic bullshit, people afraid to talk to one another...to get drunk...just be themselves. You know Mikey I don't understand the world, and I don't want to understand it. I should have been born in another era. Jesus Christ, stop me if I ever get this maudlin again."