“Eighty-First Street—let ’em out, please,” yelled the shepherd in blue.
A flock of citizen sheep scrambled out and another flock scrambled aboard. Ding-ding! The cattle cars of the Manhattan Elevated rattled away, and John Perkins drifted down the stairway of the station with the released flock.
John walked slowly toward his flat. Slowly, because in the lexicon of his daily life there was no such word as “perhaps.” There are no surprises awaiting a man who has been married two years and lives in a flat. As he walked John Perkins prophesied to himself with gloomy and downtrodden cynicism the foregone conclusions of the monotonous day.
Katy would meet him at the door with a kiss flavoured with cold cream and butterscotch. He would remove his coat, sit upon a macadamized lounge and read, in the evening paper, of Russians and Japs slaughtered by the deadly linotype. For dinner there would be pot roast; a salad flavoured with a dressing warranted not to crack or injure the leather, stewed rhubarb and the bottle of strawberry marmalade blushing at the certificate of chemical purity on its label. After dinner Katy would show him the new patch in her crazy quilt that the iceman had cut for her off the end of his four-in-hand. At half-past seven they would spread newspapers over the furniture to catch the pieces of plastering that fell when the fat man in the flat overhead began to take his physical culture exercises. Exactly at eight Hickey & Mooney, of the vaudeville team (unbooked) in the flat across the hall, would yield to the gentle influence of delirium tremens and begin to overturn chairs under the delusion that Hammerstein was pursuing them with a five-hundred-dollar-a-week contract. Then the gent at the window across the air-shaft would get out his flute; the nightly gas leak would steal forth to frolic in the highways; the dumb-waiter would slip off its trolley; the janitor would drive Mrs. Zanowitski’s five children once more across the Yalu, the lady with the champagne shoes and the Skye terrier would trip downstairs and paste her Thursday name over her bell and letter-box—and the evening routine of the Frogmore flats would be under way.
John Perkins knew these things would happen. And he knew that at a quarter-past eight he would summon his nerve and reach for his hat, and that his wife would deliver this speech in a querulous tone:
“Now, where are you going, I’d like to know, John Perkins?”
“Thought I’d drop up to McCloskey’s,” he would answer, “and play a game or two of pool with the fellows.”
Of late such had been John Perkins’ habit. At ten or eleven he would return. Sometimes Katy would be asleep; sometimes waiting up; ready to melt in the crucible of her ire a little more gold plating from the wrought-steel chains of matrimony. For these things Cupid will have to answer when he stands at the bar of justice with his victims from the Frogmore flats.
To-night John Perkins encountered a tremendous upheaval of the commonplace when he reached his door. No Katy was there with her affectionate, confectionate kiss. The three rooms seemed in portentous disorder. All about lay her things in confusion. Shoes in the middle of the floor, curling tongs, hair bows, kimonos, powder-box, jumbled together on dresser and chairs—this was not Katy’s way. With a sinking heart John saw the comb with a curling cloud of her brown hair among its teeth. Some unusual hurry and perturbation must have possessed her, for she always carefully placed these combings in the little blue base on the mantel, to be some day formed into the coveted feminine “rat.”
Hanging conspicuously to the gas jet by a string was a folded paper. John seized it. It was a note from his wife running thus:
“I just had a telegram saying mother is very sick. I am going to take the 4.30 train. Brother Sam is going to meet me at the depot there. There is cold mutton in the ice-box. I hope it isn’t her quinsy again. Pay the milkman 60 cents. She had it bad last spring. Don’t forget to write to the company about the gas meter, and your good socks are in the top drawer. I will write tomorrow.