“When I heard Monica’s
    voice on the telephone, I
knew what had happened. She
    spoke almost coldly, holding
the tears or hysterics back.
    Sam had pecked her goodbye
in bed that morning the way
     he usually did;
when she got up, she assumed
    he’d left for the office
on schedule until she
    looked out and saw the Buick
parked in the carport. Sam sat
    upright in the driver’s
seat with his eyes open.
    Because I am sixty, I have
lost many friends (my mother
    who lived to be eighty-
seven looked at newspapers
    in her last years only
to read the obituaries)
    but Sam and I met
at boarding school, we roomed
    together all through college,
and we were best man at each
    other’s weddings. We met
when we were new at Holderness,
    homesick and lonesome
as we watched the returning
    boys greeting each other
after their summers on the Cape.
    We took walks, we talked . . .
Our friendship endured college,
    political quarrels,
one drunken fistfight, dating
    each other’s ex-girlfriends,
hitchhiking, graduation,
    and marriage; and survived
although Sam left the East
    to settle in Chicago
and drudge for a conglomerate’s
    legal department, pleading in court to deny
    workmen’s compensation.
I work for the Boston Globe,
    considered liberal,
and whenever we met Sam
    started right in on me
for the naivete
    of my politics. Sometimes
we argued all night long . . .
    but I learned: If I refused
to fight, one night at the end
    of our visit, after
our wives had gone to bed,
    as we drank one more Bourbon
together, Sammy
    would admit that he hated what
he did—work, boss, and company.
    He wanted to quit;
and he would, too, as soon
    as he found another job.
One night he wept
    as he told a confusing story
about a man in Florida,
    paralyzed for life
when a fork-lift crushed
    his spinal cord, who was accused
of being drunk on the job,
    which he wasn’t. When Sam’s
department won its case
    Sam got a bonus. Of course
he never quit his job
    and his salary to work
for Cesar Chavez or sail
    his boat around the world.
He spent ten years planning
    early retirement and died
six weeks before retiring.
    Sam was a good father
and loyal husband most
    of the time. In private life
he was affectionate
    and loyal. Many people
virtuous in public
    privately abuse their wives
and children. Then I think:
    ‘What about the night-watchman,
paralyzed and cheated?
    What about his family?’,
Then I stop thinking.
    Sam wrote letters rarely. We met
every couple of years, here
    or there, and he called up
impulsively. Last August
    Sam and Monica drove
to our place. He looked good
    although he wheezed a little.
He referred to someone
    by name, as if I should know
about her, and shook his head
    sharply, two or three times,
insisting: ‘It was only
    an infatuation.’
One night after dinner,
    neither of us drinking much
these days, he took his guitar
    from the trunk of the car
so that we could sing old
         songs and reminisce. On Labor
Day they headed back.
    After Monica’s call I dreamed
about Sam all night. Today
    I am ten-thousand times
more alive in the rearward
    vision of memory
than I am editing stories
    by recent college
graduates or typing
    ’graphs on my green terminal.
I lean back, closing my eyes,
    and my sore mind repeats
home-movies of one day:
    It’s October, a Sunday
in nineteen-forty-four,
    Indian summer bright with
New Hampshire leaves: Sammy
    and I walk (happy in our
new friendship, sixteen and
    seventeen years old) under
tall sugarmaples
    extravagantly Chinese red,
and russet elms still thriving,
    enormous and noble
in the blue air.
    We talk about the war going on
overseas and whether we
    will fight in it; we talk
about what we will do
    after the war and college.
I admit: I want to write novels.
    Sam thinks maybe
he might be a musician—
    he plays guitar and sings
Josh White songs—‘but maybe
    it would be better to do
something to help people . . .’
    Maybe he should think about
Law School? (I understand:
    He feels that his rich father
leads a fatuous life
    with his Scotch and his girlfriends.)
Although we talk excitedly,
    although we mean what
we say and listen closely
    to each other, the real
burden of our talk
    is the affection that contains
and exalts us. As it turns dark,
    we head back toward school
on a shadowy gravel road;
    we are astonished
to see ahead (on a lane
    without cars in nineteen-
forty-four, as if an apparition
    conjured there
to conclude this day that fixed
    our friendship forever)
a small table with a pitcher
    on it, three glasses,
and a sign: CIDER
    A GLASS. A screendoor swings
open on the gray unpainted
    porch of a farmhouse,
and a woman (old, fat,
    and strong) walks down the dirt path
to pour us our cider.
    She takes our nickels and sells
us a second glass and then
    gives us a third. All day
today I keep tasting
    that Sunday’s almost painful
detonation of cider sweet
    and harsh in my mouth.”

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 6 Number 6, on page 33
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