The Ravell'd Sleave
The Vagabond shut the door of his room behind him and fell onto the couch. He kicked off one shoe, listened to the thump with which it hit the floor, kicked off the other one, and listened to it thump.
"I will never," he said, addressing the Universe with a wave of the hand, "do that again. Never." He slouched farther down into the dirty old leather couch, and shuddered.
"What will you never do again?" I asked from my seat at Vag's desk, where I like to work while my room-mates have water pistol fights.
"Oh," he said, startled. "It's you. I didn't see you." He paused, then sighed tremendously. "Well, you might as well know. You'd see it soon in my face if I didn't tell you. I am no longer the Vag I was; I am utterly unmanned. I have just been to class. Worse than that, I have, as a glance at your watch will inform you, been to a nine o'clock class."
"My God!" I burst out, glancing at my watch. "Whatever possessed you to do that?"
"That isn't the half of it," he returned, with another shudder and the hint of a sob. "Attend, my boy, and you shall hear the whole sad tale of how I have been reduced in the course of half a morning from a young man flushed with the vigor of his bursting prime, to the doddering human wreck you see before you. "It all began at about seven this morning. I was sleeping the sleep of the young and the innocent, as is my custom of a morning, when the phone rang. I got wearily to my feet, staggered into the living room, and picked it up.
"'Hello,' I said.
"'Hello,' it said. It was a woman's voice."
"I see you are smiling," he smiled, sadly, "but it was a dreary, middle-aged, and totally unfamiliar voice: 'Is this Marrowitz's Market?' it continued.
"'No, madam,' I replied, still hazy and half-conscious. 'This is the home and castle of a Harvard senior, into whose slumbers you have most cruelly broken.'
"'Oh,' she said, and hung up."
"Well, why didn't you go back to sleep?" I put in.
"I did, I did, I did." His tones and pauses were those of a man with an ineradicable scar burned on his memory. "I do not know how long I had been sleeping-it could not have been more than a few minutes--when I awoke with a start. The phone. It was ringing--again. This time it was a man's voice. 'Hello,' it said. 'Hello, Marrowitz's?'
"'No,' I said wearily, 'no, this is not Marrowitz's. Not in the least. Only the poor Vagabond, your humble servant.'
"He hung up and I went to bed again, but this time I could not sleep. My brain was a riot of surmise. When the phone rang, again, as of course it did in a matter of moments, a shiver of fear transfixed every inch of my body. A woman again. 'See here,' I greeeted the inevitable query. 'This must stop. I am not Marrowitz, madam, nor is this his market.' This time I hung up the phone.
"The next time it rang, I picked it up with a trembling hand. 'Marrowitz?' It was a little girl this time.
"'No, no, no,' I almost shreiked. 'Leave me alone, do you hear, leave me alone!'"
I looked at the Vagabond's ashen face. There were tears in his eyes. He cleared his throat, blew his nose, and went on. "After that they came thick and fast. Sometimes the phone rang before I had relinquished my grip on the newly-cradled receiver. Marrowitz, Marrowitz, Marrowitz, roared in a tumultuous crescendo inside my skull. Finally I fled into the unknown morning, vaguely seeking surceace in Sever Hall with Uzbek Studies 229. It was ghastly--so ghastly I cannot talk about it. The obscene rites that there transpired, as registered on my fear-crazed brain by my blear-hazed eyes have completed the utter rout of my resources, made me the shattered hulk you now behold, and driven me back to my couch."
Suddenly he burst into tears, and remained sobbing quietly for some time. As he stopped, the room became deathly quiet.
Then, suddenly, dramatically, the silence was rent in shiver. The phone! It was ringing! Again!'
Vag uttered a low sound, the sound men make when their world has crashed in ruins about them. His eyes were a thousand years old. As he shambled to his feet, his features had a strained expression horribly unlike them. He looked like a robot, a zombie. Suddenly he was almost unrecognizable.
He picked up the phone slowly, with a strange, terribly matter-of-fact air. "Hello," he said in a dull, unfamiliar voice. "This is Marrowitz's Market. Marrowitz speaking."