Art by Norman E. Masters
"What do you think of Paradise?"|
"Too many serpents and not enough Adams."
"Surely you're not that naive?"
from PARADISE PLAYLAND
Silhouettes of trees and houses against a strip of fading pink. Wire crosses of television antennas. Birds. Chilly. Dog feet patter; bike wheel whisper. Diesel whine and caboose light like ten thousand fireflies. Neon Playland. Lazy, lonely lolling weather as if time had been turned back to the year one. Pale gray shadow, rectangular yellows of lighted windows of the Paradise Hotel.
The young man who had jumped from the freight train looked toward the midway, then started toward the hotel. The Paradise Hotel bar was a small one. As he entered, he noticed a flight of stairs leading to the second floor.
"I guess I'll have a bag of peanuts, Bill," a woman who was sitting at the bar said.
"Sure thing, Mary." The bartender turned to the young man. "What's yours?"
The young man was looking at the woman who was sitting next to him.
"What'll you have?" the bartender asked, emphasizing each word. "To drink?"
"Oh, a Budweiser."
"I wish someone would buy me a drink," the woman said, yawning and stretching her arms. She accidentally brushed the young man's shoulder. "Oh, excuse me, Mr. ---"
"That's right. Nobody believes me. My Name's Joseph Christ."
"Well, hallelujah. We're all just in time for the second coming."
"You're wrong," he said, not smiling. "This is the first."
As she looked at him her grin vanished. "My name's Mary," she said, extending her hand. "Mary Worth."
"Glad to meet you, Miss Worth."
"Oh. Would you like a drink, Mary?"
"Thank you." She turned automatically, as if she had done it often. "Gin and orange, Bill."
The bartender winked. Joseph did not notice.
"Sure thing, Mary."
He was not talking about the drink.
"Would you like some peanuts, Mr. Christ?"
"Shall we sit at a table?"
He took the beer bottle with the rattling glass over the top and they sat down in one of the booths.
He poured the drink slowly until the drink came up to the top, then set the bottle down.
"Live around here?"
"Yeah. Got an apartment down the street."
He sipped at the beer.
"Let's just say not from around here."
"Okay." She changed the subject. "My man left me two years ago. I've got three kids. My youngest one had a birthday party last week. We had a big white cake with three candles and pink frosting and he blew them all out. Then we had sandwiches quartered with little toothpicks in them and tutti-fruitti ice cream. A man I met last week gave me this watch."
"Nice," he said, drawing reflectively on a pipe, thinking at first she had changed the subject again, but she hadn't.
"Sometimes men give me things," she said, looking directly at him. "And maybe... I can do 'em a little favor in return... Maybe... I've got this month's rent to pay tomorrow." She ate some peanuts.
"Look at my hands," Joseph said. "Notice anything about them?" He held them up.
"Yeah. A scar in the palm of each. Stigmata?"
"Yes. People kid me. Say I got them when I came down from the cross."
She smiled. "I like you, Joseph."
"I like you too, Mary. Would you care for another drink?"
"Couple gin and oranges, Bill. And another bag of peanuts."
Bill mixed the drinks and brought them over.
"Keep the change."
"How's your daughter?"
Bill's mouth opened in astonishment. He had never seen the young man before this night. His daughter had polio. "Not much chance of recovery. She's been that way for years. Can't even get out of bed."
"I know." He drew something from his pocket. "Give her this."
The bartender looked at it, shrugged, put it in his pocket, turned and walked back to the bar. "Thanks."
Withdrawing a packet of cigarettes, he handed them to her; she took one. He gave her a light; she noticed his lighter: small, golden with a symbol engraved on the side.
"What do you think of Paradise?"
"Of what? Oh, you mean the Playland. It's okay. Sorta dull. Good thing they didn't name it The Garden of Eden, though."
"It is? Why?"
"Too many serpents and not enough Adams."
"How about Eves?"
"All an Eve needs is one Adam."
"At a time," Mary Worth said. "Speaking of time, let's quit wasting ours."
"What do you mean?"
She looked at him.
"Surely you're not that naive? All right. I need some money to pay next month's rent. If you've got any, maybe I can do you... a favor. If not, I can get some elsewhere. Now do you understand, Mr. Christ?"
"Have you got any money?"
He did not answer.
"Okay. Forget about it."
She started to get up.
He caught her arm.
"Upstairs. Ask Bill. I'll meet you in room five." She went up the stairs. Joseph went over and said something to Bill. The bartender studied him, then nodded and Joseph went upstairs.
Mary Worth stood facing him, her hands on her hips. "I don't wanna waste your time and I don't want mine wasted. Never mind the door. It locks itself. What do you want?"
"French or regular?"
She pulled the shades down and undressed mechanically. "What're you standing there for? Get undressed."
He undressed, then walked over to the bed where Mary was lying.
"I've never..." he began. "I've never done this before."
She looked at him.
"You can't kid me. I've been doing this for years and you can't tell me you've never had it before."
"Now don't be scared. Just come over here."
They lay together on the bed.
"I haven't got any money."
"Could I give you this lighter instead? It's very valuable."
"Nice time to pull that on me, Mr. Christ. Even Christ himself wouldn't pull a thing like that."
"All right. Never mind the wisecracks. Gimme the lighter. And don't ever try it again."
They went downstairs. Mary whispered something to Bill and two men who were sitting at the bar went out after Mr. Christ. They caught him by the shoulder, spun him around and pushed him backward over an ashcan. They beat him mercilessly; he made no resistance. Mary listened with satisfaction.
"The cheapskate," she said.
"He told me he'd pay me for the room after," Bill said. "I wouldn't of trusted him but he had an honest face. Christ, never saw such an honest face."
"Huh. Know where I can get rid of this lighter?"
She handed him the golden lighter with the cross engraved on the side.
"I don't need any souvenirs from _his_ kind."
"Look what he gave me for my daughter. This medal."
The religious medal which Bill held in front of her eyes obviously did not interest her.
"Know where I can get rid of this lighter?"
"Sure. I'll take it off you."
The telephone rang; Bill helloed it, frowned, smiled, then grinned. A stranger came into the bar and sat down beside Mary.
"Hey, Mary," Bill said excitedly. "My wife. They just called from the hospital."
"I wish somebody would buy me a drink."
Yawning, Mary stretched.
"My daughter got out of her bed and _walked_. Mary, listen to me. My daughter walked for the first time in her life. He stared at the slop rag in his hands. "Hey, do you suppose that guy --" He walked to the other end of the bar, looking at the door.
Mary (accidentally) brushed the man's shoulder.
"Oh, excuse me, Mr. ---"
"How do you do, Mr. Adams. I'm Mary Worth. Bill."
She turned, frowning.
The bartender turned to her slowly.
"I'll have a gin and orange, Bill," Mary Worth said softly. "And while you're at it, I guess I'll have another bag of peanuts."
[pp. 8 - 14, PARADISE PLAYLAND by Paul Powlesland, NO-EYED MONSTER #17, Summer 1969]