THE VAGABOND

Vag shuddered as the wind pushed him down Boylston Street. "Why worry,--why worry,--why worry" ran through his brain like the stuttering of a cracked phonograph record. The wind whistled "Don't worry," and the sign in the window behind the blood-red crosses was a challenge. For Patriotic Service Beyond the Call of Duty, it screamed. Vag's mind went Red, White and Blue. A minute later the warmth of the converted auto-showroom supported him as he heard the sugar-coated voice in the starched white uniform laugh, "Good afternoon." Come into my parlor, he thought. Now he knew his cards were all on that neat table.

"Have an appointment for three," he whispered. He thrust his appointment card toward the starched uniform. "You are number 52," the voice laughed. Bloody 52, Vag shot back, silently. He shuffled from desk to desk, chilled as the dour, guarded faces nodded and smiled toothily. He started, then settled back sheepishly as a cold feminine hand clutched his. "All right now, this isn't going to hurt." She squeezed the blood from his finger onto the glass plate. He started. It was a dark, smooth red. Crimson in triumph flashing, Vag laughed to himself.

He stepped on the suede foot of the woman behind him, but the "pardon me" got stuck in his throat as he found himself face to face with a yellow sweatered Norma. "Hold hands with me?" he pleaded silently. She didn't. She smiled and asked if he knew Bill Thompson in Kirkland House. Vag did. "Remember me to him, will you? He'll remember me." He didn't want to move on, but the eyes of woman No. 53 said hurry. "He sure will," Vag called back toward the yellow sweater. She was too busy with No. 53 to hear him. A white arm beckoned him toward another room.

He rolled up his shirt sleeve with a flourish as he entered the small, very white room. When his eyes got used to the glare from the gleaming walls, Vag saw what he knew he should have expected, but hadn't. He counted them, five women lying on their backs on what looked like operating tables. He gaped at the black, serpentine rubber pipes that seemed to have risen out of small bottles and attached themselves to the women's arms. He watched intently as the red stuff seeped into the bottles.

As he lay waiting on the table, Vag wondered if the Beacon Street dowager next to him cared whose life was saved with her blood. Funny if it got to some bleeding Muscovite. Curiosity forced him to look down the row of tables at the prone women. He winced. Why were they all clenching their fists? Pain? But they told me . . . Vag looked up into the soft face in the hard white uniform. It surprised him when he saw a black pipe stuck in the crook of his arm and a slow red flow into the bottle. "Open and close your fist," she said, "it acts as a pump. Vag pumped, and turned to watch the red line rise with each motion of his hand. He stared at the white ceiling. Open, close; open, close; "The human body has about fifteen pints of blood," he heard the Bio D man say; open, close, pump. The nurse called him. The pipe was gone and she waved the bottle of deep red, admiringly, for him to see. She thanked him. The aura of patriotic benevolence that he had felt was gone. "Gee, you'd think I'd had a baby or something. It's nothing," he trailed off . . .