Mi Bote

Milty, have I got a story for you!

No, sit down. Enjoy the cr^am
cheese and bagel. I guarantee this
one will make a first-class TV
movie; Tm working on it already.
Small cast, cheap production — it’s
a natural. See, we start with this
crazy chick, maybe about seven-
teen, but she’s a waif, she’s
withdrawn from the world, see?
She’s had some kind of terrible
shock. And she’s fixed up this old
apartment in a slum really weird,
like a fantasy world — long, blonde
hair, maybe goes around barefoot
in tie-dyed dresses she makes out of
old sheets, and there’s this account
executive who meets her in Central
Park and falls in love with her on
account of she’s like a dryad or a
nature spirit —

All right. So it stinks. I’ll pay
for my lunch. We’ll pretend you’re
not my agent, okay? And you don’t
have to tell me it’s been done; I
know it’s been done. The truth is —

Milty, I have to talk to someone.
No, it’s a lousy idea, I know and
I’m not working on it and I haven’t
been working on it, but what are
you going to do Memorial Day
weekend if you’re alone and
everybody’s out of town?

I have to talk to someone.

Yes, I’ll get off the Yiddische
shtick. Hell, I don’t think about it;
I just fall into it sometimes when I
get upset, you know how it is. You
do it yourself. But I want to tell you
a story and it’s not a story for a
script. It’s something that hap-
pened to me in high school in 1952
and I just want to tell someone. I
don’t care if no station from here to
Indonesia can use it; you just tell
me whether I’m nuts or not, that’s


It was 1952, like I said. 1 was a
senior in a high school out on the
Island, a public high school but
very fancy, a big drama program.

my boat


They were just beginning to
integrate, you know, the early
fifties, very liberal neighborhood;
everybody’s patting everybody else
on the back because they let five
black kids into our school. Five out
of eight hundred! You’d think they
expected God to come down from
Flatbush and give everybody a big
fat golden halo.

Anyway, our drama class got
integrated, too — one little black
girl aged fifteen named Cissie
Jackson, some kind of genius. All I
remember the first day of the
spring term, she was the only black
Fd ever seen with a natural, only we
didn’t know what the hell it was,
then; it made her look as weird as if
she’d just come out of a hospital or

Which, by the way, she just had.
You know Malcolm X saw his
father killed by white men when he
was four and that made him a
militant for life? Well, Cissie’s
father had been shot down in front
of her eyes when she was a little kid
— we learned that later on — only
it didn’t make her militant; it just
made her so scared of everybody
and everything that she’d with-
draw into herself and wouldn’t
speak to anybody for weeks on end.
Sometimes she’d withdraw right
out of this world and then they’d
send her to the loony bin; believe
me, it was all over school in two
days. And she looked it; she’d sit

up there in the school theater — oh,
Milty, the Island high schools had
money, you better believe it! — and
try to disappear into the last seat
like some little scared rabbit. She
was only four eleven anyhow, and
maybe eighty-five pounds sopping
wet. So maybe that’s why she didn’t
become a militant. Hell, that had
nothing to do with it. She was
scared of everybody. It wasn’t just
the white-black thing, either; I once
saw her in a corner with one of the
other black students: real uptight,
respectable boy, you know, suit and
white shirt and tie, hair straight-
ened the way they did then with a
lot of grease and carrying a new
briefcase, too, and he was talking to
her about something as if his life
depended on it. He was actually
crying and pleading with her. And
all she did was shrink back into the
corner as if she’d like to disappear
and shake her head No No No. She
always talked in a whisper unless
she was on stage and sometimes
then, too. The first week she forgot
her cues four times — just stood
there, glazed over, ready to fall
through the floor — and a couple of
times she just wandered off the set
as if the play was over, right in the
middle of a scene.

So A1 Coppolino and I went to
the principal. I’d always thought
Alan was pretty much a fruitcake
himself — remember, Milty this is
1952 — because he used to read all



that crazy stuff, The Cult of
Chthulhu, Dagon Calls, The
Horror Men of Leng — yeah, I
remember that H.P. Lovecraft flick
you got 10 percent on for
Hollywood and TV and reruns —
but what did we know? Those days
you went to parties, you got excited
from dancing cheek to cheek, girls
wore ankle socks and petticoats to
stick their skirts out, and if you
wore a sport shirt to school that was
okay because Central High was
liberal, but it better not have a
pattern on it. Even so, I knew A1
was a bright kid and I let him do
most of the talking; I just nodded a
lot. I was a big nothing in those

A1 said, *'Sir, Jim and I are all
for integration and we think it’s
great that this is a really liberal
place, but — uh — ”

The principal got that look.

“But?” he said, cold as ice.

“Well, sir,” said Al, “it’s Cissie
Jackson. We think she’s — um —
sick. I mean wouldn’t it be better*if
… I mean everybody says she’s just
come out of the hospital and it’s a
strain for all of us and it must be a
lot worse strain for her and maybe
it’s a strain for all of us and it must
be a lot worse strain for her and
maybe it’s just a little soon for her
to — ”

“Sir,” I said, “what Coppolino
means is, we don’t mind integrating

blacks with whites, but this isn’t
racial integration, sir; this is
integrating normal people with a
filbert. I mean — ”

He said, “Gentlemen, it might
interest you to know that Miss
Cecilia Jackson has higher scores
on her IQ tests than the two of you
put together. And I am told by the
drama department that she has
also more talent than the two of you
put together. And considering the
grades both of you have managed
to achieve in the fall term. I’m not
at all surprised.”

Al said under his breath, “Yeah,
and fifty times as many problems.”

Well, the principal went on and
told us about how we should
welcome this chance to work with
her because she was so brilliant she
was positively a genius, and that as
soon as we stopped spreading
idiotic rumors, the better chance
Miss Jackson would have to adjust
to Central, and if he heard anything
about our bothering her again or
spreading stories about her, both of
us were going to get it but good,
and maybe we would even be

And then his vioce lost the ice,
and he told us about some white
cop shooting her pa for no reason at
all when she was five, right in front
of her, and her pa bleeding into the
gutter and dying in little Cissie’s
lap, and how poor her mother was,
and a couple of other awful things

my boat


that had happened to her, and if
that wasn’t enough to drive
anybody crazy — though he said
“cause problems,” you know —
anyhow, by the time he’d finished, I
felt like a rat and Coppolino went
outside the principal’s office, put
his face down against the tiles —
they always had tiles up as high as
you could reach, so they could wash
off the graffiti, though we didn’t
use the word “graffiti” in those
days — and he blubbered like a

So we started a Help Cecilia
Jackson campaign.

And by God, Milty, could that
girl act\ She wasn’t reliable, that
was the trouble; one week she’d be
in there, working like a dog, voice
exercises, gym, fencing, reading
Stanislavsky in the cafeteria,
gorgeous performances, the next
week: nothing. Oh, she was there in
the flesh, all right, all eighty-five
pounds of her, but she would walk
through everything as if her mind
was someplace else: technically
perfect, emotionally nowhere. I
heard later those were also the
times when she’d refuse to answer
questions in history or geography
classes, just fade out and not talk.
But when she was concentrating,
she could walk onto that stage and
take it over as if she owned it. I
never saw such a natural. At
fifteen! And tiny. I mean not a
particularly good voice — though I

guess just getting older would’ve
helped that — and a figure that,
frankly. Milt, it was the old W.C.
Fields joke, two aspirins on an
ironing board. And tiny, no real
good looks, but my God, you know
and I know that doesn’t matter if
you’ve got the presence. And she
had it to burn. She played the
Queen of Sheba once, in a one-act
play we put on before a live
audience — all right, our parents
and the other kids, who else? —
and she was the role. And another
time I saw her do things from
Shakespeare. And once, of all
things, a lioness in a mime class.
She had it all. Real, absolute, pure
concentration. And she was smart,
too; by then she and A1 had become
pretty good friends; I once heard
her explain to him (that was in the
green room the afternoon of the
Queen of Sheba thing when she was
taking off her make-up with cold
cream) just how she’d figured out
each bit of business for the
character. Then she stuck her
whole arm out at me, pointing
straight at me as if her arm was a
machine gun, and said:

“For you. Mister Jim, let me tell
you: the main thing is belief.**

It was a funny thing. Milt. She
got better and better friends with
Al, and when they let me tag along,
I felt privileged. He loaned her
some of those crazy books of his
and I overheard things about her



life, bits and pieces. That girl had a
mother who was so uptight and so
God-fearing and so respectable it
was a wonder Cissie could even
breathe without asking permission.
Her mother wouldn’t even let her
straighten her hair — not
ideological reasons, you under-
stand, not then, but because — get
this — Cissie wuj too young. I think
her mamma must’ve been crazier
than she was. Course I was a damn
stupid kid (who wasn’t?) and I
really thought all blacks were real
loose; they went around snapping
their fingers and hanging from
chandeliers, you know, all that
stufi*, dancing and singing. But
here was this genius from a family
where they wouldn’t let her out at
night; she wasn’t allowed to go to
parties or dance or play cards; she
couldn’t wear make-up or even
jewelry. Believe me, I think if
anything drove her batty it was
being socked over the head so often
with a Bible. I guess her
imagination just had to find some
way out. Her mother, by the way,
would’ve dragged her out of
Central High by the hair if she’d
found out about the drama classes;
we all had to swear to keep that
strictly on the q.t. The theater was
even more sinful and wicked than
dancing, I guess.

You know, I think it shocked
me. It really did, Al’s family was
sort-of-nothing-really Catholic and

mine was sort-of-nothing Jewish.
I’d never met anybody with a
mamma like that, I mean she
would’ve beaten Cissie up if Cissie
had ever come home with a gold
circle pin on that white blouse she
wore day in and day out; you
remember the kind all the girls
wore. And of course there were no
horsehair petticoats for Miss
Jackson; Miss Jackson wore pleated
skirts that were much too short,
even for her, and straight skirts that
looked faded and all bunched up.
For a while I had some vague idea
that the short skirts meant she was
daring, you know, sexy, but it
wasn’t that; they were from a much
younger cousin, let down. She just
couldn’t afford her own clothes. I
think it was the mamma and the
Bible business that finally made me
stop seeing Cissie as the Integration
Prize Nut we had to be nice to
because of the principal or the
scared little rabbit who still, by the
way, whispered everyplace but in
drama class. I just saw Cecilia
Jackson plain, I guess, not that it
lasted for more than a few minutes,
but I knew she was something
special. So one day in the hall,
going from one class to another, I
met her and A1 and I said, “Cissie,
your name is going to be up there in
lights someday. I think you’re the
best actress I ever met and I just
want to say it’s a privilege knowing
you.’’ And then I swept her a big

my boat


corny bow, like Errol Flynn.

She looked at A1 and A1 looked
at her, sort of sly. Then she let
down her head over her books and
giggled. She was so tiny you
sometimes wondered how she could
drag those books around all day;
they hunched her over so.

A1 said, “Aw, come on. Let’s tell

So they told me their big secret.
Cissie had a girl cousin named
Gloriette, and Gloriette and Cissie
together owned an honest-to-God
slip for a boat in the marina out in
Silverhampton. Each of them paid
half the slip fee — which was about
two bucks a month then. Milt —
you have to remember that a
marina then just meant a long
wooden dock you could tie your
rowboat up to.

“Gloriette’s away,” said Cissie,
in that whisper. “She had to go visit
auntie, in Carolina. And mamma’s
goin’ to follow her next week on

“So we’re going to go out in the
boat!” A1 finished it for her. “You
wanna come?”


“Sure, mamma will go to the
bus station after church,’’ said
Cissie. “That’s about one o’clock.
Aunt Evelyn comes to take care of
me at nine. So we have eight hours.

“And it takes two hours to get
there,’’ said Al. “First you take the
subway; then you take a bus — ”

“Unless we use your car, Jim!”
said Cissie, laughing so hard she
dropped her books.

“Well, thanks very much!’’ I
said. She scooped them up again
and smiled at me. “No, Jim,’’ she
said. “We want you to come,
anyway. Al never saw therboat yet.
Gloriette and me, we call it My
Boat,'" Fifteen years old and she
knew how to smile at you so’s to
twist your heart like a pretzel. Or
maybe I just thought: what a
wicked secret to have! A big sin, I
guess, according to her family.

I said, “Sure, I’ll drive you. May
I ask what kind of boat it is. Miss

“Don’t be so damn silly,” she
said daringly. “I’m Cissie or
Cecilia. Silly Jim.”

“And as for My Boat"' she
added, “it’s a big yacht. Enor-

I was going to laugh at that, but
then I saw she meant it. No, she was
just playing. She was smiling
wickedly at me again. She said we
should meet at the bus stop near
her house, and then she went down
the tiled hall next to skinny little Al
Coppolino, in her old, baggy, green
skirt and her always-the-same
white blouse. No beautiful, big,
white, sloppy bobby socks for Miss
Jackson; she just wore old loafers
coming apart at the seams. She
looked diflFerent, though: her head
was up, her step springy, and she



hadn’t been whispering.

And then it occurred to me it
was the first time I had ever seen
her smile or laugh — off stage.
Mind you, she cried easily enough,
like the time in class she realized
from something the teacher had
said that Anton Chekhov you
know; the great Russian playwright

— was dead. I heard her telling
Alan later that she didn’t believe it.
There were lots of little crazy things
like that.

Well, I picked her up Sunday in
what was probably the oldest car in
the world, even then — not a
museum piece, Milty; it’d still be a
mess — frankly I was lucky to get it
started at all — and when I got to
the bus station near Cissie’s house
in Brooklyn, there she was in her
faded, hand-me-down, pleated
skirt and that same blouse. I guess
little elves named Cecilia Jackson
came out of the woodwork every
night and washed and ironed it.
Funny, she and A1 really did make
a pair — you know, he was like the
Woody Allen of Central High and I
think he went in for his crazy books

— sure. Milt, very crazy in 1952 —
because otherwise what could a
little Italian plunk do who was five
foot three and so brilliant no other
kid could understand half the time
what he was talking about? I don’t
know why I was friends with him; I
think it made me feel big, you
know, generous and good, like

being friends with Cissie. They were
almost the same size, waiting there
by the bus stop, and I think their
heads were in the same place. I
know it now. I guess he was just a
couple of decades ahead of himself,
like his books. And maybe if the
civil rights movement had started a
few years earlier —

Anyway, we drove out to
Silverhampton and it was a nice
drive, lots of country, though all
flat — in those days there were still
truck farms on the Island — and
found the marina, which was
nothing more than a big old quay,
but sound enough; and I parked
the car and A1 took out a shopping
bag Cissie’d been carrying.
“Lunch,” he said.

My Boat was there, all right,
halfway down the dock. Somehow I
hadn’t expected it would exist,
even. It was an old leaky wooden
rowboat with only one oar, and
there were three inches of bilge in
the bottom. On the bow somebody
had painted the name, “My Boat,”
shakily in orange paint. My Boat
was tied to the mooring by a rope
about as sturdy as a piece of string.
Still, it didn’t look like it would
sink right away; after all, it’d been
sitting there for months, getting
rained on, maybe even snowed on,
and it was still floating. So I
stepped down into it, wishing I’d
had the sense to take off my shoes,
and started bailing with a tin can

my boat


rd brought from the car. Alan and
Cissie were taking things out of the
bag in the middle of the boat. I
guess they were setting out lunch. It
was pretty clear that My Boat spent
most of its time sitting at the dock
while Cissie and Gloriette ate lunch
and maybe pretended they were on
the Queen Mary, because neither
Alan nor Cissie seemed to notice
the missing oar. It was a nice day
but in-and-outish; you know,
clouds one minute, sun the next,
but little fluffy clouds, no sign of
rain. I bailed a lot of the gunk out
and then moved up into the bow,
and as the sun came out I saw that
rd been wrong about the orange
paint. It was yellow.

Then I looked closer: it wasn’t
paint but something set into the
side of My Boat like the names on
people’s office doors; I guess I
must’ve not looked too closely the
first time. It was a nice, flowing
script, a real professional job.
Brass, I guess. Not a plate. Milt,
kind of — what do they call it,
parquet? Intaglio? Each letter was
put in separately. Must’ve been
Alan; he had a talent for stuff like
that, used to make weird illustra-
tions for his crazy books. I turned
around to find A1 and Cissie taking
a big piece of cheesecloth out of the
shopping bag and drapling it over
high poles that were built into the
sides of the boat. They were making
a kind of awning. I said:

“Hey, I bet you took that from
the theater shop!’’

She just smiled.

A1 said, “Would you get us
some fresh water, Jim?’’

“Sure,” I said. “Where, up the

“No, from the bucket. Back in
the stern. Cissie says it’s marked.’’

Oh, sure, I thought, sure. Out
in the middle of the Pacific we set
out our bucket and pray for rain.
There was a pail there all right, and
somebody had laboriously stenciled
“Fresh Water’’ on it in green paint,
sort of smudgy, but that pail was
never going to hold anything ever
again. It was bone-dry, empty, and
so badly rusted that when you held
it up to the light, you could see
through the bottom in a couple of
places. I said, “Cissie, it’s empty.’’

She said, “Look again, Jim.’’

I said, “But look, Cissie — ’’ and
turned the bucket upside-down.

Cold water drenched me from my
knees to the soles of my shoes.

“See?’’ she said. “Never emp-
ty.’’ I thought: Hell, I didn’t look,
that’s all. Maybe it rained
yesterday. Still, a full pail of water
is heavy and I had lifted that thing
with one finger. I set it down — if it
had been full before, it certainly
wasn’t now — and looked again.

It was full, right to the brim. I
dipped my hand into the stuff and
drank a little of it: cold and clear as
spring water and it smelled — I



don’t know — of fems warmed by
the sun, of raspberries, of field
flowers, of grass. I thought: my
God, I’m becoming a filbert myselfl
And then I turned around and saw
that Alan and Cissie had replaced
the cheesecloth on the poles with a
striped blue-and -white awning, the
kind you see in movies about
Qeopatra, you know? The stuff
they put over her barge to keep the
sun off. And Cissie had taken out of
her shopping bag something
patterned orange-and-green-and-
blue and had wrapped it around
her old clothes. She had on gold-
colored earrings, big hoop things,
and a black turban over that funny
hair. And she must’ve put her
loafers somewhere because she was
barefoot. Then I saw that she had
one shoulder bare, too, and I sat
down on one of the marble benches
of My Boat under the awning
because I was probably having
hallucinations. I mean she hadn’t
had time — and where were her old
clothes? I thought to myself that
they must’ve lifted a whole bagful
of stuff from the theater shop, like
that big old wicked -looking knife
she had stuck into her amber-stud-
ded, leather belt, the hilt all
covered with gold and stones: red
ones, green ones, and blue ones
with little crosses of light winking
in them that you couldn’t really
follow with your eyes. I didn’t know
what the blue ones were then, but I

know now. You don’t make star
sapphires in a theater shop. Or a
ten-inch, crescent-shaped steel
blade so sharp the sun dazzles you
coming off its edge.

I said, “Cissie, you loc^ like the
Queen of Sheba.’’

She smiled. She said to me,
“Jim, iss not Shee-bah as in thee
Bible, but Saba. Sah-bah. You
mus’ remember when we meet

I thought to myself: Yeah, this
is where little old girl genius Cissie
Jackson comes to freak out every
Sunday. Lost weekend. I figured
this was the perfect time to get
away, make some excuse, you
know, and call her mamma or her
auntie, or maybe just the nearest
hospital. I mean just for her own
sake; Cissie wouldn’t hurt anybody
because she wasn’t mean, not ever.
And anyhow she was too little to
hurt anyone. I stood up.

Her eyes were level with mine.
And she was standing below me.

A1 said, “Be careful, Jim. Look
again. Always look again.’’ I went
back to the stern. There was the
bucket that said “Fresh Water,’’
but as I looked the sun came out
and I saw I’d been mistaken; it
wasn’t old, rusty, galvanized iron
with splotchy, green-painted letters.

It was silver, pure silver. It was
sitting in a sort of marble well built
into the stem, and the letters were
jade inlay. It was still full. It would

my boat


always be full. 1 looked back at
Cissie standing under the blue-and-
white-striped silk awning with her
star sapphires and emeralds and
rubies in her dagger and her funny
talk — I know it now, Milt, it was
West Indian, but I didn’t then —
and I knew as sure as if I’d seen it
that if I looked at the letters “My
Boat’’ in the sun, they wouldn’t be
brass but pure gold. And the wood
would be ebony. I wasn’t even
surprised. Although everything had
changed, you understand, I’d never
seen it change; it was either that I
hadn’t looked carefully the first
time, or I’d made a mistake, or I
hadn’t noticed something, or I’d
just forgotten. Like what I thought
had been an old crate in the middle
of My Boat, which was really the
roof of a cabin with little portholes
in it, and looking in I saw three
bunk beds below, a closet, and a
beautiful little galley with a
refrigerator and a stove, and off to
one side in the sink, where I
couldn’t really see it clearly, a
bottle with a napkin around its
neck, sticking up from an ice
bucket full of crushed ice, just like
an old Fred Astaire-Ginger
Rogers movie. And the whole inside
of the cabin was paneled in

Cissie said, “No, Jim. Is not
teak. Is cedar, from Lebanon. You
see now why I cannot take seriously
in this school this nonsense about

places and where they are and what
happen in them. Crude oil in
Lebanon! It is cedar they have. And
ivory. I have been there many,
many time. I have talk’ with the
wise Solomon. I have been at court
of Queen of Saba and have made
eternal treaty with the Knossos
women, the people of the double ax
which is waxing and waning moon
together. I have visit Akhnaton and
Nofretari, and have seen great
kings at Benin and at Dar. I even
go to Atlantis, where the Royal
Couple teach me many things. The
priest and priestess, they show me
how to make My Boat go anywhere
I like, even under the sea. Oh, we
have manhy improvin’ chats upon
roof of Pahlahss at dusk!’’

It was real. It was all real. She
was not fifteen. Milt. She sat in the
bow at the controls of My Boat, and
there were as many dials and
toggles and buttons and switches
and gauges on that thing as on a
B-57. And she was at least ten years
older. A1 Coppolino, too, he looked
like a picture I’d seen in a history
book of Sir Francis Drake, and he
had long hair and a little pointy
beard. He was dressed like Drake,
except for the ruff, with rubies in
his ears and rings all over his
fingers, and he, too, was no
seventeen-year-old. He had a faint
scar running from his left temple at
the hairline down past his eye to his
cheekbone. I could also see that


under her turban Cissie’s hair was
braided in some very fancy way.
I’ve seen it since. Oh, long before
everybody was doing “corn rows.’’ I
saw it at the Metropolitan
Museum, in silver face-mask
sculptures from the city of Benin, in
Africa. Old, Milt, centuries old.

A1 said, “I know of other places.
Princess. I can show them to you.
Oh, let us go to Ooth-Nargai and
Celephais the Fair, and Kadath in
the Cold Waste — it’s a fearful
place, Jim, but we need not be
afraid — and then we will go to the
city of Ulthar, where is the very
fortunate and lovely law that no
man or woman may kill or annoy a

“The Atlanteans,’’ said Cissie
in a deep sweet voice, “they
promise’ that next time they show
me not jus’ how to go undersea.
They say if you think hard, if you
fix much, if you believe, then can
make My Boat go straight up. Into
the stars, Jim!’’

A1 Coppolino was chanting
names under his breath: Cathuria,
Sona-Nyl, Thalarion, Zar, Bahama,
Nir, Oriab. All out of those books
of his.

Cissie said, “Before you come
with us, you must do one last thing,
Jim. Untie the rope.’’

So I dimed down My Boat's
ladder onto the quay and undid the
braided gold rope that was fastened
to the slip. Gold and silk


intertwined. Milt; it rippled
through my hand as if it were alive;
I know the hard, slippery feel of
silk. I was thinking of Atlantis and
Celephais and going up into the
stars, and all of it was mixed up in
my head with the senior prom and
college, because I had been lucky
enough to be accepted by The-Col-
lege-Of-My-Choice, and what a
future I’d have as a lawyer, a
corporation lawyer, after being a
big gridiron star, of course. Those
were my plans in the old days. Dead
certainties every one, right? Versus
a thirty-five-foot yacht that
would’ve make John D. Rockefeller
turn green with envy and places in
the world where nobody’d ever been
and nobody’d ever go again. Cissie
and A1 stood on deck above me, the
both of them looking like some-
thing out of a movie — beautiful
and dangerous and very strange —
and suddenly I knew I didn’t want
to go. Part of it was the absolute
certainty that if I ever offended
Cissie in any way — I don’t mean
just a quarrel or disagreement or
something you’d get the sulks
about, but a real bone-deep kind of
offense — I’d suddenly find myself
in a leaky rowboat with only one
oar in the middle of the Pacific
Ocean. Or maybe just tied up at the
dock at Silverhampton; Cissie
wasn’t mean. At least I hoped so. I
just — I guess I didn’t feel good
enough to go. And there was

my boat


something about their faces, too, as
if over both of them, but especially
over Cissie’s, like clouds, like veils,
there swam other faces, other
expressions, other souls, other pasts
and futures and other kinds of
knowledge, all of them shifting like
a heat mirage over an asphalt road
on a hot day.

I didn’t want that knowledge,
Milt. I didn’t want to go that deep.
It was the kind of thing most
seventeen-year-olds don’t learn for
years: Beauty. Despair. Mortality.
Compassion. Pain.

And I was still looking up at
them, watching the breeze fill out
A1 Coppolino’s plum-colored velvet
cloak and shine on his silver-and-
black doublet, when a big, heavy,
hard, fat hand clamped down on
my shoulder and a big, fat, nasty,
heavy. Southern voice said:

“Hey, boy, you got no permit
for this slip! What’s that rowboat
doin’ out there? And what’s yo’

So I turned and found myself
looking into the face of the great-
granddaddy of all Southern red-
neck sheriffs: face like a bulldog
with jowls to match, and sunburnt
red, and fat as a pig, and
mountain-mean. I said, “Sir?” —
every high-school kid could say that
in his sleep in those days — and
then we turned toward the bay, me
saying, “What boat sir?” and the
cop saying just, “What the — ”

Because there was nothing
there. My Boat was gone. There
was only a blue shimmering stretch
of bay. They weren’t out further
and they weren’t around the other
side of the dock — the cop and I
both ran around — and by the time
I had presence of mind enough to
look up at the sky —

Nothing. A seagull. A cloud. A
plane out of Idlewild. Besides,
hadn’t Cissie said she didn’t yet
know how to go straight up into the

No, nobody ever saw My
Boat again. Or Miss Cecilia
Jackson, complete nut and girl
genius, either. Her mamma came to
school and I was called into the
principal’s office. I told them a
cooked -up stor>% the one I’d been
going to tell the cop: that they’d
said they were just going to row
around the dock and come back,
and I’d left to see if the car was
okay in the parking lot, and when I
came back, they were gone. For
some crazy reason I still thought
Cissie’s mamma would look like
Aunt Jemima, but she was a thin
little woman, very like her
daughter, and as nervous and
uptight as I ever saw: a tiny lady in
a much-pressed, but very clean,
gray business suit, like a teacher’s,
you know, worn-out shoes, a blouse
with a while frill at the neck, a
straw hat with a white band, and
proper white gloves. I think



Cissie knew what I expected
her mamma to be and what a
damned fool I was, even consi-
dering your run-of-the-mill, seven-
teen-year-old, white, liberal racist,
and that’s why she didn’t take me

The cop? He followed me to my
car, and by the time I got there — I
was sweating and crazy scared —

He was gone, too. Vanished.

I think Cissie created him. Just
for a joke.

So Cissie never came back. And
I couldn’t convince Mrs. Jackson
that Alan Coppolino, boy rapist,
hadn’t carried her daughter off to
some lonely place and murdered
her. I tried and tried, but Mrs.
Jackson would never believe me.

It turned out there was no
Cousin Gloriette.

Alan? Oh, he came back. But it
took him a while. A long, long
while. I saw him yesterday. Milt, on
the Brooklyn subway. A skinny,
short guy with ears that stuck out,
still wearing the sport shirt and
pants he’d started out in, that
Sunday more than twenty years
ago, and with the real 1950’s
haircut nobody would wear today.
Quite a few people were staring at
him, in fact.

The thing is. Milt, he was still

No, I know it wasn’t some other
kid. Because he was waving at me
and smiling fit to beat the band.

And when I got out with him at his
old stop, he started asking after
everybody in Central High just as if
it had been a week later, or maybe
only a day. Though when I asked
him where the hell he’d been for
twenty years, he wouldn’t tell me.
He only said he’d forgotten
something. So we went up five
flights to his old apartment, the
way we used to after school for a
couple of hours before his mom and
dad came home from work. He had
the old key in his pocket. And it
was just the same. Milt: the gas
refrigerator, the exposed pipes
under the sink, the summer
slipcovers nobody uses any more,
the winter drapes put away, the
valance over the window muffled in
a sheet, the bare parquet floors,
and the old linoleum in the kitchen.
Every time I’d ask him a question,
he’d only smile. He knew me,
though, because he called me by
name a couple of times. I said,
“How’d you recognize me?” and he
said, “Recognize? You haven’t
changed.” Haven’t changed, my
God. Then I said, “Look, Alan,
what did you come back for?” and
with a grin just like Cissie’s, he
said, “T/re Necronomicon by the
mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred, what
else?” but I saw the book he took
with him and it was a different one.
He was careful to get just the right
one, looked through every shelf in
the bookcase in his bedroom. There


were still college banners all over
the walls of his room. I know the
book now, by the way; it was the
one you wanted to make into a
quick script last year for the guy
who does the Poe movies, only I
told you it was all special effects
and animation: exotic islands,
strange worlds, and the monsters*
costumes alone — sure, H.P.
Lovecraft. “The Dream Quest of
Unknown Kadath.” He didn’t say a
word after that. Just walked down
the five flights with me behind him
and then along the old block to the
nearest subway station, but of
course by the time I reached the
bottom of the subway steps, he
wasn’t there.

His apartment? You’ll never
find it. When I raced back up,
even the house was gone. More
than that. Milt, the street is gone;
the address doesn’t exist any more;
it’s all part of the new expressway

Which is why I called you. My
God, I had to tell somebody! By
now those two psychiatric cases are
voyaging around between the stars
to Ulthar and Ooth-Nargai and
Dylath-Leen —

But they’re not psychiatric
cases. It really, happened.

So if they’re not psychiatric
cases, what does that make you and
me? Blind men?

I’ll tell you something else.
Milt: meeting A1 reminded me of


what Cissie once said before the
whole thing with My Boat but after
we’d become friends enough for me
to ask her what had brought her
out of the hospital. I didn’t ask it
like that and she didn’t answer it
like that, but what it boiled down to
was that sooner or later, at every
place she visited, she’d meet a
bleeding man with wounds in his
hands and feet who would tell her,
“Cissie, go back, you’re needed;
Cissie, go back, you’re needed.’’ I
was fool enough to ask her if he was
a white man or a black man. She
just glared at me and walked away.
Now wounds in the hands and feet,
you don’t have to look far to tell
what that means to a Christian,
Bible-raised girl. What I wonder is:
will she meet Him again, out there
among the stars? If things get bad
enough for black power or women’s
liberation, or even for people who
write crazy books, I don’t know
what, will My Boat materialize over
Times Square or Harlem or East
New York with an Ethiopian
warrior-queen in it and Sir Francis
Drake Coppolino, and God-only-
knows-what kind of weapons from
the lost science of Atlantis? I tell
you, I wouldn’t be surprised. I
really wouldn’t. I only hope He —
or Cissie’s idea of him — decides
that things are still okay, and they
can go on visiting all those places in
A1 Coppolino’s book. I tell you, I
hope that book is a long book.



Still, if I could do it again ….
Milt, it is not a story. It
happened. For instance, tell me one
thing, how did she know the name
Nofretari? That’s the Egyptian
Queen Nefertiti, that’s how we all
learned it, but how could she know
the real name decades, literally
decades, before anybody else? And
Saba? That’s real, too. And Benin?
We didn’t have any courses in
African History in Central High,
not in 1952! And what about the
double-headed ax of the Cretans at
Knossos? Sure, we read about
Crete in high school, but nothing in
our history books ever told us about
the matriarchy or the labyris, that’s
the name of the ax. Milt, I tell you,
there is even a women’s lib
bookstore in Manhattan called —
Have it your own way.

Oh, sure. She wasn’t black; she
was green. It’d make a great TV
show. Green, blue, and rainbow-
colored. I’m sorry, Milty, I know
you’re my agent and you’ve done a
lot of work for me and I haven’t
sold much lately. I’ve been reading.
No, nothing you’d like: existen-
tialism, history, Marxism, some
Eastern stuff —

Sorry, Milt, but we writers do
read every once in a while. It’s this
little vice we have. I’ve been trying
to dig deep, like A1 Coppolino,
though maybe in a different way.

Okay, so you want to have this
Martian, who wants to invade

Earth, so he turns himself into a
beautiful, tanned girl with long,
straight, blonde hair, right? And
becomes a high-school student in a
rich school in Westchester. And
this beautiful blonde girl Martian
has to get into all the local
organizations like the women’s
consciousness-raising groups and
the encounter therapy stuff and the
cheerleaders and the kids who push
dope, so he — she, rather — can
learn about the Earth mentality.
Yeah. And of course she has to
seduce the principal and the coach
and all the big men on campus, so
we can make it into a series, even a
sitcom maybe; each week this
Martian falls in love with an Earth
man or she tries to do something to
destroy Earth or blow up some-
thing, using Central High for
a base. Can I use it? Sure I can! It’s
beautiful. It’s right in my line. I can
work in everything I just told you.
Cissie was right not to take me
along; I’ve got spaghetti where my
backbone should be.

Nothing. I didn’t say anything.
Sure. It’s a great idea. Even if we
only get a pilot out of it.

No, Milt, honestly, I really think
it has this fantastic spark. A real
touch of genius. It’ll sell like crazy.
Yeah, I can manage an idea sheet
by Monday. Sure. “The Beautiful
Menace from Mars?’’ Un-huh.
Absolutely. It’s got sex, it’s got
danger, comedy, everything; we


could branch out into the lives of
the teachers, the principal, the
other kid’s parents. Bring in
contemporary problems like drug
abuse. Sure. Another Peyton Place,
i’ll even move to the West Coast
again. You are a genius.

Oh my God.

Nothing. Keep on talking. It’s
just — see that little skinny kid in
the next booth down? The one with
the stuck-out ears and the
old-fashioned haircut? You don’t?
Well, I think you’re just not looking
properly. Milt. Actually I don’t
think I was, either; he must be one
of the Met extras, you know, they
come out sometimes during the
intermission: all that Elizabethan
stuff, the plum-colored cloak, the
calf-high boots, the silver-and-
black — As a matter of fact, 1 just
remembered — the Met moved
uptown a couple of years ago, so he
couldn’t be dressed like that, could

You still can’t see him? I’m not
surprised. The Light’s very bad in
here. Listen, he’s an old friend — I
mean he’s the son of an old friend

— I better go over and say hello, I
won’t be a minute.

Milt, this young man is
important! I mean he’s connected
with somebody very important.
Who? One of the biggest and best
producers in the world, that’s who!
He — uh — they — wanted me to

— you might call it do a script for


them, yeah. I didn’t want to at the
time, but —

No, no, you stay right here. I’ll
just sort of lean over and say hello.
You keep on talking about the
Beautiful Menace from Mars; I can
listen from there; I’ll just tell him
they can have me if they want me.

Your ten per cent? Of course
you’ll get your ten per cent. You’re
my agent, aren’t you? Why, if it
wasn’t for you, I just possible might
not have — Sure, you’ll get your ten
percent. Spend it on anything you
like: ivory, apes, peacocks, spices,
and Lebanese cedarwood!

All you have to do is collect it.

But keep on talking, Milty,
won’t you? Somehow I want to go
over to the next booth with the
sound of your voice in my ears.
Those beautiful ideas. So original.
So creative. So true. Just what the
public wants. Of course there’s a
difference in the way people
perceive things, and you and I, I
think we perceive them differently,
you know? Which is why you are a
respected, successful agent and I —
well, let’s skip it. It wouldnt be
complimentary to either of us.

Huh? Oh, nothing. I didn’t say
anything. I’m listening. Over my
shoulder. Just keep on talking while
I say hello and my deepest and
most abject apologies. Sir Alan
Coppolino. Heard the name before.
Milt? No? I’m not surprised.

You just keep on talking ….

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