By this time James was beginning to think his uncle had forgotten him. James had been sitting in the restaurant for two hours now, looking and watching out the rain-streaked window, and he was beginning to feel like a little boy kept indoors by a spring downpour.
    Every ten minutes or so the hostess would come around and ask if he wanted another spafizz but James would only shake his head and smile bleakly.
    Then he would turn resolutely back to the window, expecting his uncle to be there suddenly, like a gift left on a doorstep.
    It was while he was watching that he saw the girl across the street trip on the boardwalk and go falling to her knees in the mud. Her parasol went flying into the path of a wagon. The horses trampled right over it. The girl, not one to take such a slight politely, raised her tiny fist and shook it in the direction of the retreating wagon.
    Several of the older male customers inside the restaurant had also watched this little nickelodeon adventure played out in the rain and mud. They rubbed their muttonchops and patted the plump bellies they’d covered with silk vests and pointed to the girl.
    One man said, “It’s that young whore Liz.”
    Looking into the street again, James saw that it was indeed the girl he’d spent much of last night with.
    Another stout man laughed. “A little mud never hurt a girl like that.”
    Liz obliged her oglers by starting to stand up, mud clinging to her hands and arms and the whole of her skirt, and promptly falling right back down to her knees.
    The men in the restaurant began poking each other and pointing out of the window as if they were spectators at a particularly funny play.
    “Too bad she doesn’t put on a show when you go up to see her,” one man laughed.
    James, disliking the meanness and arrogance of the men, got up from his chair and started running down the aisle to the door. He tromped hard on one man’s shoes as he fled out the door, stomping down directly on the instep. This was the man who’d referred to Liz as a “young whore.” The man cursed James and shook a fat fist in the boy’s direction.
    The rain pelted him immediately. It was a cold rain and hard. It was also difficult to see through.
    He waded out into the street that had become a vast mud puddle. He sank in halfway to his knees. The mud made faint sucking sounds as he raised and lowered his feet.
    He noticed that several people stood on the boardwalk under the overhang pointing to Liz and smirking much as the men in the restaurant had. It was obvious they knew who she was and what she was and would make no move to help her. The women twirling their parasols and peering out from beneath their picture hats looked particularly mean.
    The street was so swampy it took him two full minutes to reach her. By this time she had fallen over yet again, and now even her face was mud-spattered.
    She didn’t recognize him at first. She was obviously angry and hurt and ashamed and so instead of thanking this helpful stranger, she tried to slap him.
    The people along the boardwalk started laughing again.
    James took the hand she meant to slap him with and said, “Don’t you remember me, Liz?”
    There in the drenching rain, there in the echoes of the crowd’s harsh laughter, she narrowed her eyes and looked more closely at him. “You’re the kid from last night.”
    He noted how she said that. She had not called him by name. There had been no warmth or even surprise in her voice. She was simply identifying him.
    He said, above the rain, “I had a nice time last night.”
    She shook her head. “Kid, just help me get out of here, will you?”
    But he felt hurt. “Didn’t you have a nice time?”
    Now she shouted above the rain. “Maybe you didn’t notice but they’re starting to laugh at you, too.”
    “Let them,” he said. “I just want to know if you had a good time last night.”
    “I had a great time.”
    “You don’t sound as if you mean that, Liz.”
    There in the rain, them both shouting, both soaked and mud-mired, she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek and said, “You know something, kid? You really are a kid. A sweet one.”
    The crowd found this even more wonderful entertainment. A few of them even applauded.
    “Will you help me get across the street to the boardwalk?” Liz said.
    He slid his arm in hers. “I’d be proud to.”
    She smiled at him uncertainly. “You haven’t been drinking again today, have you, kid?”
    He smiled back. “Not so far.”


    They walked across the street, step by inching step. By now James was mud-soaked, too.
    Once, she fell and he had to help her up. Once, he fell and she had to help him up. The crowd loved it.
    “They really make me mad,” James said as they drew near the boardwalk.
    “Because of how they treat you.”
    She stopped and stared at him through the silver rain. “Kid, I’m a whore. How do you expect them to treat me?”
    “You should have more pride in yourself than that.”
    She squeezed his arm and smiled again.
    Now he smiled. “And stop calling me kid. I’m nearly two years older than you.”
    So they resumed their walk.
    Now it was apparent they were going to make it without further incident, the crowd began to disperse. Their entertainment was over.
    When they finally reached the protection of the overhang, she began to look herself over, shaking her head. “No wonder they was laughin’.”
    “I ain’t real pretty on the best of days. Lookin’ like this…” She shook her head again. Her hair was formed against her head like the sculpted hair of a statue.
    “Who said you aren’t pretty?”
    She had been scraping mud from her skirts. She stopped and looked up at him. “Kid, I don’t think I can take any more of your chivalry.”
    “But Liz, I’m just trying to be-”
    “I know what you’re trying to be!” she said. She glanced over at two townsmen standing there watching her. Smirking. “Kid, sometimes being nice hurts worse than anything else. Because I’m not used to people being nice to me.”
    And he saw then in her tears and heard in the stricken sound of her voice the pain and dread she tried not to acknowledge.
    “Kid, just go be nice to somebody else, all right?”
    And then she left, her footsteps sharp against the wood of the boardwalk, a muddy little farm girl aging too quickly in the harsh city.
    “Don’t worry, son,” one of the onlookers said. “There’s plenty more back at that house where she came from.”
    James felt as if he wanted to take a swing at the guy, but it was just then that a male voice shouted his name through the rain, and he turned to see, standing in front of the restaurant his uncle Septemus.
    Septemus was waving for James to cross the muddy street again.
    Huddling into his soaked clothes, ready to feel the cold steady rain on his head and back again, James set forth across the swampy street.
Jack Dwyer #07 - What the Dead Men Say
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