With Eddy on the Subway
By David Hartley Mark
The F train roared and howled as we barreled through the tunnel, like the shrieks of the Lamia attacking a victim.
“Are you hungry, Eddy?” I asked Edgar Allan Poe, and he stared at me with eyes like far-off stars. He was doubtless in the middle of composing a story, or ode. “We can go down to Greenwich Village for lunch,” I said, “I know a falafel place that is totally delish. It won’t upset your stomach. Just some falafel balls….”
Eddy turned his mournful eyes on me, and his lips moved. Only I couldn’t hear anything. He was just recovering from a long bout of drunkenness.
“What did you say, Eddy?” I asked, “I can’t hear you.”
“I said,” he said, “that not all the falafel balls on the island of Manhattan shall ever erase the memory of my Dear One, my own….”
“You mean Virginia?” I asked. My stomach was starting to rumble; since getting up early to take the kids to school, and then grabbing the subway to Fordham, where Eddy lived, I could use a bite.
“Yes, my Virginia, my blessed damozel!” Eddy continued, “I can never let her memory pass from my mind. O, my diseased mind, where such horrors dwell!”
“Do you take your falafel with hot sauce?” I asked. When Eddy got maudlin this way, I always tried to distract him. “Maybe later, we can go to a movie. Captain America is fighting Captain Marvel….”
“Never, never, never will I besmirch her angelic memory!” Eddy continued, “nor will I ever forgive Muddy—”
“For what?” I asked, wondering why or how Eddy could ever blame his aunt/mother-in-law, who had taken such great pains to care for Virginia and him, especially after she had taken ill. And she was always there when Eddy got “sick,” as they called his fondness for whiskey and fruit juice.
“For propping Virginia up,” gasped Eddy, “and getting that—that hack to paint her portrait, after she was dead.”
That was the fashion ‘way back then: to paint the faces of recently-deceased young women and girls, after they died of tuberculosis. It was a common enough practice. I wondered why Eddy was so perturbed about it.
The train pulled into West 4th Street, and I gave Eddy a gentle push. Really, the man was so little and thin; that might have been because most of his nourishment was of the liquid kind. Still, I could not complain; not knowing the area, Eddy succumbed to my directions.
“Go through the turnstile, Eddy,” I urged him.
“The turnstile—” he moaned. “Yes, life is a turnstile. The mansion lay alongside a tarn—”
There he went again, quoting from one of his works, this one “The Fall of the House of Usher.” I did not see the connection between a subway turnstile and a haunted mansion, complete with a zombie-vampire heroine.
“Eddy,” I queried, “Why are you fulminating about Usher?”
“Because it represents my life,” he said, again turning those massive dark eyes upon me. They resembled pools which, if one were to penetrate them like a psychic swim champion, might lead down to Hell. “Yes, my life, my life.”
I forced him up the stairs to the Village, as he continued to moan. “Where is this place of which you speak?” he asked, “Do they have strong drink? I could use a cooling Southern Comfort—the air is very hot.” The sweat bespangled his brow.
“Um, I suppose I could you a Dr Pepper,” I replied.
“Yes, a doctor for me—I could surely use the services of a doctor.”
“Dr Pepper isn’t that kind of doctor,” I attempted.
“Any doctor will do,” he said, “There was that doctor in Baltimore, from whom I stole—took his malacca sword-cane—when attacked by ruffians, how I gave them as good, or better, as I got!”
“I remember the cane,” I answered, “I took it from you, for safety. I called the doctor to come get it. And sorry, Eddy, you never attacked any ruffians.” He had a tendency to exaggerate; but then, the man was a poet.
“Yes, call the doctor!” cried Eddy, placing a arm on his forehead, most dramatically, and feigning a faint, “I must have liquor, I simply must….”
“Here’s the falafel stand,” I hastened to say pushing open the scarred and cracked door of the restaurant, “and this man is Avi, who runs the stand with his brother Shimmy, and their cousin, Mephiboshet.”
The three short-but-beefy Israelis, all engaged in various food preparation activities, nodded, mumbling “Shalom—Hi—Good to see you.”
“I, too, am Mephiboshet,” moaned Eddy, “for I am crippled in mind, as he was in his legs. What ho, purveyors of foodstuffs? Dost have any liquor? Firewater? Potables of potency?”
“Can I help you boys?” asked Avi, the one whose accent was most pronounced, and ignoring Eddy’s requests for liquor.
“Whence comest thou?” asked Eddy, reverting, for reasons I did not understand, to a pseudo-Quaker accent, “Wilt thou supply us with the comestibles necessary?”
“A whole order or half?” asked Shimmy, putting rubber gloves on, and dipping his hand into the vat of balls.
“I am not prepared, mentally or physically, for an entire order,” said Eddy, “And will therefore sit this one out. Dost have any beer, mayhap?”
“We have Goldstar, from Israel,” said Mephiboshet, whom everyone called Steve, for reasons I did not understand.
“We’ll have the Jerusalem Mix,” I told the trio, deciding for Eddy. Perhaps the potent combination of chicken, beef, and gyro would restore some of his brain-addled sanity.
“Ah, Jerusalem!” intoned Eddy, “The regions which, Fair Damozel, are Holy-Land!”
“What’s the matter with your friend?” asked Avi, putting two handfuls of chopped meat onto the grill.
“He’s a poet,” I explained, and the three nodded wisely. As Israelis, men of action—though their action these days consisted mainly of frying meat and putting falafel balls into a pita, not taking out hidden enemy rockets—they, nonetheless, understood the mindset of the poet.
“I really love Yehuda Amichai,” said Shimmy, “my cousin Orli had her father read one of his poems at their wedding.”
He began to recite,
“We have put up many flags
They have put up many flags
To make us think they’re happy
To make us think we’re happy.
“Know him?” he asked Poe, assuming that all poets knew one another. Poe, dazed and confused, sprawled in his plastic chair.
Eddy suddenly began to rock back-and-forth, as though he were about to faint. “I grow mystical, and fantastical!” he cried.
“Give this to him,” said Shimmy, stuffing the two Mixes into gigantic, soft, pita, redolent of being warmed in the oven, “It will put—how do you say in English?—hair on his chest.”
“Doubt that,” I said, thinking of Eddy’s pale skin, mottled with worry-spots, and thin, pinched-in chest, “but we can try.”
“That will be twenty-six dollars, forty-seven cents,” said Mephiboshet, who was in charge of the register. I handed him my credit card, which he shoved into the back of his white-plastic credit computer.
“Dost pay without cash?” asked Eddy, “O, what marvels doth this New Age bring!”
The door opened, and a young girl, about seventeen, entered. She wore a baseball cap backward, which I saw read “DON’T HASSLE ME I BITE,” and carried a skateboard under her thin but muscular arm.
“Shoshana!” cried the brothers, and went to make her up a Tel Aviv Veggie Special.
“Shalom, you doofs,” said the laconic young girl, “How they hangin’?”
“O maiden!” said Eddy, perking up, “Wilt thou retreat with me, Annabel-Lee-like, to a sepulcher by the sea?”
Knowing that Annabel Lee had been dead when Poe—or the poem’s narrator—lay down along side her, I tried to fend off Eddy’s awkward advances by distracting him with the food: “Here, eat this,” I told him, and, tearing off a section of sandwich, stuffed it into his mouth. Having not eaten in nearly two days—he and Rufus Griswold had been on a bender, during which that scoundrel had tricked Eddy into signing over all his literary rights, effectively making Griswold his literary executor—he eagerly scarfed down the mixture of kosher meats.
“What’s with the geek?” the teen asked the three Israelis. True to their nature, they shrugged collectively, not wishing to take sides against a paying customer. The girl took her falafel, went to a corner table, grimaced at its sticky surface—the boys were lackadaisical in housekeeping—and began to eat, after saying the appropriate blessing. I looked on, marveling that she was religious, despite her garb.
Eddy had finished his mouthful, and was reaching for more. “Save for the delectable roll in which these meats reside,” he told me, “this meal remindeth me of the delicacies which Muddy used to prepare for Virginia and me. Virginia—” and here, his thin chest heaved, and he uttered a mighty sob, but quickly suppressed it. After all, Virginia had been dead for nearly two years, and Muddy, deprived of any income from her son-in-law’s labors, had gone back to Baltimore, to throw herself on the mercy of the Poe-Clemm Family.
While Eddy cried, the bitter tears of mourning coursing down his cheeks, the Israelis pretended not to notice. Mephiboshet was putting pita into large plastic bags.
“Take care, you bochrim,” said Shoshana, opening the door of the shop and scooting off.
“O, my friend,” said Poe, standing up and heading towards the door—I headed him off, luckily—“Let us pursue that young being, whose grace imitates that of a young Dian, goddess of the moon!”
“Eddy,” I answered, staring at him pointedly, “Sit down and finish your lunch. Your days of chasing young girls are over.”
He saw that I meant it, and dropped once more onto his plastic seat.
Behind the counter, the three Israelis chopped up onions and ripe tomatoes. They nodded, as well. They knew the reputation of Mr. Poe.