DescriptionIn the darkest days of the Great Depression, New York Times reporter Whit Stoddard has lost the heart to do his job and lives a lonely hand-to-mouth existence with little hope of recovery, until he meets Peter, a man in even greater need of new hope.
Reader Rating: (17 Ratings)
Excerpt:"Well? What do you think?" Whit gazed across the miles of ink-stained oak to where Charlie Hadley sprawled against cracked leather, his customary scowl mostly hidden behind a scrap of badly typed copy. It wasn't the scowl that worried Whit. It was the extended quiet in a room that was normally loud and frequently blue with Hadley's rants. "Best thing you ever read? Pulitzer material?"
Hadley lowered the copy to the desk and looked at Whit. The dollop of amusement mixed with an even smaller dollop of sympathy made Whit's heart drop a little further than it had the last time—was it only two weeks ago?—that he'd turned in a story Hadley had no use for. If Hadley took it, it would be less out of interest than dwindling hope that time and patience would give him back one of his best journalists.
"What do I think?" Hadley shook a Camel out of the pack at its post beside the smiling wife and kids. "Mrs. Grasby's parakeet will love it."
"So I'll get a Pulitzer for most popular birdcage liner." Whit looked longingly at the cigarettes. Probably just as well he was out of pocket. Camels didn't sit well on an empty stomach. "You taking the story?"
"You think I ought to?"
"I've still got a good nose. It's just—allergy season."
"I figured." Hadley lit the cigarette. "Why don't you get that nose sniffing uptown and check out the Dorington bru-ha?"
Whit shook his head. He still had some pride. "I don't write sob stories over suicides. Save that for the young guys fascinated by the distant spectre of death."
Hadley snorted smoke into the office's stale air. "You're what—twenty-eight?"
Whit resisted the urge to inhale a little of the cloud passing by. "Twenty-nine."
"I think you got some time left," Hadley said.
That had seemed truer four years ago, before the world had gone to hell. Whit sat up a little straighter and tackled the question still hanging like dead weight on his shoulders. "Lend me a little for the week?"
Hadley's brows rose, brushing the unkempt fall of gray hair. "Already? What happened to the five I gave you?"
"I bought a yacht," Whit retorted. "What the hell do you think?"
"You eating at Delmonico's?"
"When was the last time you had a soda and a ham sandwich at Delmonico's?"
"Yeah, all right." Hadley fished a dollar from his own pocket, to Whit's relief; he hated the condescending clerk in accounting.
"Yeah, okay. Save some of it for a sunny day, will you?"
"Sunny days," he said with a laugh. "You didn't hear? Those are over. Done. Settle in and enjoy the rain." Before shame could show through the ill-fitting nonchalance, Whit got up and headed for the door.
"Dorington," Hadley called after him. "Human interest. Sells papers, remember?"
Human interest. As he started down the deserted corridor to the lift, Whit made a face. He'd lost all interest in humans, lately. The street preacher he'd seen standing at the bread line at dawn had only cemented his certainty that humans, the lot of them, were divided into two predictable camps. The hyenas, ever alert to claim the first fresh meat, conscionable or not—and the lambs, who generally wandered right up and threw themselves in the roasting pan, no doubt convinced by all the hollow assurances that tomorrow would be better. Sure it would.
For the hyenas.
God's punishment, the preacher had intoned with grim reproach, as if he were exempt somehow from the sins of his race. Punishment for what, Whit had wondered, looking down the line of tired, hopeless faces. What had any of them done that was so terrible? He took some comfort in realizing no one listened to the preacher. They were distracted by hunger, by worries that had not lulled in months—in years. He was glad for their distraction. It was a shield—momentarily—from just another goddamned worry. The world was falling apart at the seams and no one, not even Roosevelt, would be putting it back together.
Whit smoothed the crumpled bill, folded it, then eased it securely into his vest pocket. Some of the dollar would have to be spared for a bed. He wasn't sleeping in a doorway again, if he could help it. He made his way against a gusty wind to Rivington, nurturing a small hope that the bread line had diminished. That hope was doused as he came around the corner and found the line had grown until he could not see its end. Not even the blackening clouds deterred the crowd. In fact, they hardly seemed to notice. Compelled by growling bellies, they shuffled forward, then stood doggedly as the first raindrops fell.
Whit couldn't take a place in line. Bad enough it was a bitter cold night; but he'd be a damned jerk to make anyone else wait behind him when he had enough in his pocket to buy himself a meal. Funny, how privileged he felt with only a dollar to his name. The one-eyed man in the land of the blind. He walked in the gutter, leaving the sidewalk to the waiting, and made eye contact as he passed. An exchanged nod or a rueful smile shared with any one of them, and he might feel a little less like a Park Avenue high hat going off to dine on meatloaf and macaroni and cheese.
But almost everyone's attention stayed fixed ahead, to the kitchen entrance. Those who hadn't come alone stood huddled with their companions, still drawn to check the line's progress every few feet, as if they couldn't have told as easily with their eyes shut. A block further, two blocks further, and Whit briefly met the glance of a man standing alone, shoulders hunched, face white under the stark light of the street lamp. The puffy eyes and damp face startled Whit. He'd thought by now he was inured to public tears.
"Hey." He kept it low, trying to single out the man's attention. With a step onto the curb, he came closer. "The food here stinks." He tried on a grin, wanting to feel it. "Come on and I'll buy you a cup of coffee."
The man stared at him, perhaps not sure what to comprehend from that. The woman behind him comprehended plenty. "The end of the line's that way," she said, her indignation waking those around her. She patted the crying man smartly on the shoulder. "You don't let him cut in."
"Wouldn't be fair," the elderly man behind her agreed.
"I'm not cutting in," Whit said, astonished.
The crying man's mouth set in a disgusted line. "You trying to lose me my place? Get me booted off?"
"Leave him alone," the woman said.
"Selfish," the elderly man muttered.
Whit's stomach churned, not entirely from hunger. Selfish. Sure. He had a dollar in his pocket and he didn't have to share, after all. "Enjoy the soup."
He should have gone to the automat. But the cafeteria across the road from the soup kitchen was open and he went there, in full view of the crying man and his defenders. He didn't look around to see if they'd noticed. He didn't want to give a damn. A further damn, anyway.
The cafeteria smelled of onions and garlic, no doubt liberally applied to old meat. Whit looked over the beef stew and the chicken that seemed more skin and bone than meat, and decided none of it was worth spending the night puking in a flophouse toilet. He took a bowl of noodles and some bread and scouted out the loneliest table he could find. Human interest. There was enough human interest in the cafeteria, alone, to fill a dozen papers—but the story might get wearying after the hundredth read. Couple struggling. Family struggling. Everyone struggling.
The noodles were flavorless and he swallowed them down like medicine, along with the stale bread. While he ate, he watched a middle-aged man, hat pulled low, move around newly vacated tables, stopping frequently to shove a bread crust into his mouth or polish clean a chicken bone. What a cruel thing, Whit mused, that people couldn't stuff themselves like bears and sleep the winter away—not that it would spare anyone. Winter had come to stay.
It was raining in earnest when he left the cafeteria; God, no doubt, again passing judgment upon his miserable flock, still gathered on the sidewalk. The rain washed away what remaining color was left in the world as Whit hurried down darker and darker blocks to the hotel—an amusing designation, as far as he was concerned. He might not have grown up a Vanderbilt or Rockefeller, but he knew what a hotel was; this cavernous, damp, dark room with row upon row of iron bedsteads and thin, stained mattresses did not qualify. But the residents, as stained, damp, and miserable as their surroundings, didn't exactly qualify as guests.
Except perhaps one.
Whit had seen some expensive shoes propped on the grubby flophouse blankets, shoes in sad shape, worn down and dulled by the miles walked in search of a job. The damp pair resting on the bunk beside his were all but new, and slick with a recent buff. So too the overcoat, with its shiny dark brown buttons, and the muted brown diamond weave of a suit more clean and brushed than anything Whit had seen on the street in over a year. His first thought, that the fellow was on the run from the law, would have persisted, if not for the introspective quiet in his eyes and the careless way he lay slumped on the mattress, his hat crushed against the bedframe. He was so far away, he didn't seem to sense Whit's gaze on him, and Whit stole a moment to appreciate features that were all angles, but not unattractively so, framed by hair that Whit sensed was usually neat but now tumbled in a dark brown wave over his forehead. Between crumpled hat and new shoes, the lanky length of him didn't promise an especially strapping figure, but looked fit enough to keep a girl warm at night—or fellow, as the case may be.
Reader Reviews (3)
Submitted By: radio* on Jan 19, 2013By far one of the best stories I have ever read, so well done, very moving. I rode the whole emotional roller coaster with these men. Tamara Allan develops both the story and the characters with perfectly scripted detail and with every word written you just want more. So worth the read, I've paid for books that were no where near as well done as this story is. 5 stars? No I'd definitely give it 10!
Submitted By: Connie1209 on May 14, 2012What you need to know is that If It Ain´t Love is just perfect. I keep thinking, that if the world didn´t turn upside down for these two man, maybe they´ve never found each other. In a short story like this one you might expect everything to be rushed, but the author takes her time with the characters and develops a beautiful story. A story about trust, love and above all hope.
Submitted By: lorisk on Sep 7, 2011epub file won't open and the system won't let me re-"purchase" to choose another format. repeating download does not help. Guess I won't read it.