Authors: Patricia Highsmith
ADDITIONAL BOOKS BY PATRICIA HIGHSMITH
PUBLISHED BY W. W. NORTON
Strangers on a Train
The Price of Salt (as Claire Morgan)
The Talented Mr. Ripley
This Sweet Sickness
The Glass Cell
A Suspension of Mercy
Ripley Under Ground
A Dog's Ransom
Little Tales of Misogyny
The Animal-Lover's Book of Beastly Murder
Slowly, Slowly in the Wind
The Boy Who Followed Ripley
The Black House
People Who Knock on the Door
Mermaids on the Golf Course
Ripley Under Water
Small g: A Summer Idyll
ADDITIONAL TITLES FROM OTHER PUBLISHERS
Miranda the Panda Is on the Veranda (with Doris Sanders)
A Game for the Living
The Cry of the Owl
The Two Faces of January
Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction
Those Who Walk Away
The Tremor of Forgery
The Snail-Watcher and Other Stories
Found in the Street
Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes
The Uncollected Stories
of Patricia Highsmith
W. W. Norton & Company
New York London
THE MIGHTIEST MORNINGS
he train, which had been following a clean little river for more than an hour, rounded a wooded bend, blew its whistle, and puffed Âserenely toward a tiny town at the foot of a mountain.
In one of the cars, a man who had been scrutinizing each town along the way thrust his face anxiously to the window. His expression changed, and he left off the nervous nibbling of his nails. A long thrilling shudder of pleasure ran through him, for he knew that this town he had never seen before was the town he sought.
Under the overcast sky the place looked rather drab, he thought, yet friendly and accommodating, too, for it seemed to have established itself at the very edge of the railroad track for the convenience of anyone who wished to debark here. He could see a church, a courthouse, and a main thoroughfare that paralleled the tracks and presented one of every kind of store a person might have need of. And beyond this frank and hospitable facade lay neat two-story houses, sewn upon green that blended into greener and blue-green mountains that might have covered the rest of the earth.
He put his ten fingertips, which were puffed high and clean beyond nearly devoured nails, on the windowsill as though sounding a final chord to a tormented symphony. He was about to throw himself on his knees and murmur, “Thank the blessed God!” when he heard a hoarse “Boa-ad!” from the platform.
With his valise caught up under his arm, he dashed down the aisle and bumped into the conductor on the steps.
“I'm getting off!” he said, and leapt from the slowly moving train.
The train crept on northward, carrying into nowhere the prints of his ten fingers on one of its gritty sills.
A few paces from the station, he came to the edge of the tarred main street whose name was Trevelyan Boulevard. The marquee of the movie theater loomed before him, its bill of fare a delightful prospect for he loved movies, the pole by the barbershop twirled gaily backward, the screen door of a cafÃ© slapped as a man came out, and two small girls with ice-cream cones, a housewife with shopping bag, and an overalled farmer passed before him, pleasing and appropriate as characters upon a stage. Yet it was not a stage, but a real little town where probably everyone he saw had been born and would live and die. Already he seemed to feel a kinship with them.
It was hard to remember that he had awakened that morning with the shriek of an elevated train in his ears, that he had sat that morning at the wheel of his cab. Had he driven a fare today? He remembered driving slowly, ignoring people who waved and whistled for him, reluctant as always and suddenly unable to plunge into the hysteria of New York. New York that morning! As he looked back from a distance of eight hours, its cramped fury seemed like a disease. He thought of New York now, intensely, and for the last time. Then he cut his thinking off as he might have a radio that blared a football scramble.
Happiness, goodwill, and optimism seemed to lift him from the ground. A new town, virgin, potential, where he might begin again! He felt reborn. Sunday he would go to the church, whose black spire, surmounted by a gilt ball and cross, he could see above some treetops, and would offer thanks to God with the rest of the townspeople.
Just as a grumble of hunger came from his stomach, his eyes alighted on a white structure a few yards away on this side of Trevelyan Boulevard. Big black letters spelled eats down its side, and small neon signs front and back wrote out the dandy diner.
The door resisted him, and a voice behind its steamy pane called something that sounded like “Sloy dit!”
Aaron slid it, entered, and closed it snugly behind him. The place was warm and fragrant of eggs-in-butter and of fresh-cooked hamburger.
“Eve-nin'!” the same voice said. It belonged to a husky denim-shirted man behind the counter.
“Good evening!” Aaron replied, nodding to everyone. He seated himself on a stool.
His blue eyes moved pleasurably over the pale-crusted homemade pies, the raft of popping hot dogs on the grill, the bowl of bright soft butter, and the novel varieties of sweet buns on plates in the shelves. Ordinarily his eyes bulged, and from the side possessed a catlike translucence, but now they projected farther as they searched out every feature of the shop. He lifted his hat and gave his brown hair a perfunctory smoothing. He watched the counterman extract a waffle from the iron, butter it generously, and set it before a man in the blue-and-white striped overalls of a railroad worker.
“Betcha,” the man replied, with a rolling inflection that covered several tones.
The counterman set a pitcher of syrup beside his plate, then came to Aaron. “What'll it be?”
Aaron pressed his palms together, raised himself slightly by the footrest, and called for a hot dog, a waffle, a piece of peach pie, one of the sweet buns, and a cup of coffee. While these things were preparing, he listened to the banter of the counterman and the railroad worker, and to the softer talk of two Negroes that was interspersed with laughter.
The pulse of the electric ventilator bound the world within the diner into a perfect whole.
The telephone rang, and the young girl who had been daydreaming beside the cash register sprang to it. “You-ou!” she drawled, smiling. “Mac says I have to wuhk tonight till eight-thuhty.”
“Aw, I'll let you off,” Mac threw in good-naturedly. “When do you ever wuhk anyway?”
When the waffle was brought to him, Aaron touched his chin self-consciously. “I should have got a shave first, I guess.” He smiled at the counterman.
Mac smiled back. “Oh, that's all right. We ain't fussy. Look at me.” He laughed. “Where you from?”
“New York.” Aaron ducked his head and began eating the waffle. He poured a discreet amount of syrup on it (even if he were from New York, he would not behave like those he had seen in the Automats, so greedy that syrup and cream had to be meted to them in decent portions), and between bites turned his head to read the various placards on the walls.
COME ONE, COME ALL!
WILLIE WALKER'S FAMOUS SEVEN-PIECE BAND
ADMISSION $1.50 PER COUPLE
BRIGHTON RECREATION HALL
Its date was a month old. He wondered if the young girl was going to one of these dances tonight. He had not heard of any of the towns mentioned.
Then he saw a sign that said:
MRS. HOPLEY'S COMFORTABLY FURNISHED LODGINGS
BY WEEK OR MONTH
17 PLEASANT STREET
“Where's Pleasant Street?” he asked Mac, so apprehensive lest this town was not Clement, he dared not ask that question first.
Finally Mac brought his hand down from the back of his neck, pointed to a corner of the diner, and gave instructions that Aaron was too excited to attend. His mind was forming images of the house, of the room he would have. He was marveling at his good luck to have found a street with the name “Pleasant,” while “Clement” itself was sweet enough to the ear, ringing some bell in his memory that conjured up a picture of a sunny landscape and a picnic.
“Goin' to be here awhile?” Mac asked as he handed him the check.
“I hope so.” Aaron smiled, and leaving a dollar on the counter, he backed for the door. “Sure enjoyed that.”
“Come back again!”
“'Bye!” the girl said.
Following the direction of the pointed finger, Aaron headed for a street around the drugstore corner. At the intersection he stopped to admire a modest war memorial. It was a cement post set in a triangle of grass, bearing a metal plate on which some hundred names were listed, Clement veterans of all the wars. Adams, Barber, Barton, Burke, ChildâHopley? Yes, there was a Zachariah P. and a William J. Hopley. He might mention having seen them to Mrs. Hopley.
He hurried on his way, smiled a greeting to a straggly-haired barefoot little girl who leaned against a tree, said “Good evening!” to an old bent gentleman in cracked, well-shined shoes and a starched collar that stood out from his neck.
“Howdy do!” the old man replied.
Walking a general uphill way, he arrived at Pleasant Street, which was bordered with large elms that leaned inward, meeting overhead. And no sooner did he enter this tunnel of greenness than the sun came out and fell through the thousands of leaves like golden rain.
Anxiously he watched the numbers grow until he stood before number seventeen, a two-story, yellowish house half hidden by lush green vines that sprang from either end of the front porch. He recognized the house as he had the town. It was what he wanted. Home! There was homeliness in the cracked brown paint, elegance in the spindling black balustrades that supported the porch rail and the banisters of the wooden steps. Two black iron dogs set in profile, one paw raised, symmetrically guarded the casual front lawn that was divided by a cement walk.
“Lookin' for some'an?” a voice called from the porch.
Aaron started up the walk. “I'm looking for a room.”
A swing creaked and a short chunky man in glazed manila pants and shirt came toward him. “Think there's one or two,” he said, smiling and inspecting Aaron.
“Who wants a room?” This time the voice came from behind the screen door. “Just got one. Y'can come in an' see if y'like it.”
He followed her through a hall, up a flight of stairs and down another hall. Finally she opened the door of a generous square room with three enormous windows.
“Y'lucky,” she told him. “Fella just moved out yestiddy. Changed his job an' went to Bennington. Rooms haad t'get anywheres in this town.”
He nodded, enchanted. “I'll take it.”
He paid seven dollars for his week's rent and, left to himself, inspected the view from each window. From one he could see mountains, from the others could just touch the leaves of a big tree that grew on the lawn. With a pleasurable sense of efficiency and orderliness, he began to transfer his things from the valise to the bureau. The deep newspaper-lined drawers put his wardrobe to shame. His four shirts lay flat and lonely in the bottom drawer, and even the loosest sprinkling of his socks and handkerchiefs over them helped little. Having nothing to put in the last drawer, he read a bit in its newspaper. Finally he set the empty valise in the closet, closed the bureau drawers, and surveyed the room with satisfaction, yet thinking that except for the shaving articles he had left out on the round table, his coming had wrought no change at all. Well, he thought, that was what happened when you left all your old clothes behind, all the trinkets gathered over the years to ornament furnished rooms in New York.
There was a knock at the door.
Mrs. Hopley came in. “Brought y'some towels,” she said in a warmer tone than before, almost an intimate, conspiratorial tone, so that Aaron faced her attentively and blinked at her. She laid two bath towels, a face towel, and a washrag separately along the bedside, then straightened up and smiled at him.
“Fine! Just what I need right away,” he responded, though it was only that morning he had failed to shave. “I've been a long time on the train.”
Mrs. Hopley nodded and regarded him with huge brown eyes behind thick lenses. She fumbled at the slack, somewhat soiled front of her dress, which hung just as slackly behind, over her bony, cowlike rump. “Where d'y' come from?”
“New York,” he replied, smiling nervously, for he felt as he had in the diner with Mac, that the people of the small town might look upon him with suspicion.
“Hmm-mm.” Her eyes moved slowly and ceaselessly, resting as often on nearby parts of the room as on him. One of her ancient black house slippers with damaged pompon was poised shyly on the toe of the other, as though to mitigate by womanly grace the questionnaire she intended to put to him. “Got business here?”
He hesitated, then smiled. He could not help smiling at anything that had to do with the pleasant town of Clement. “Well, not exactly. You might say I'm in need of a vacation and the town looked good to me.”
“Not much doin' here in the way of vacationin'.”
“I don't mean an ordinary vacation.” He moistened his lips. “See, I was a taxi driver in New York. My nerves got sort of jumpy, so I decided to pull up stakes and come to a new place.”
“Maybe. I hope so. I sure like this town.”
She thought a minute. “Not much call for taxi drivers around here.”
“Oh, I wouldn't be a taxi driver! I've had enough of that.”
She nodded. “What d'y' think y'll do, then?”
He saw her look at his hands, and he unclenched them and smiled. “I don't know yet, see? I'll have to find out.” He added modestly, “I've got a little money saved up.”
“Hmm-mm.” She scratched her nose roughly with her forefinger. “Wall, wish y' luck.”
Despite her dubiousness, the words put heart into him. He smiled and thanked her.
She began to talk more easily, told him the best places to eat, where he might find work, and mentioned a baler for the leather factory who was staying in the house, whom he might like to talk with because he had worked for a while in New York.