The Servant

Clancy Duchamp woke up comfortable and immediately knew something was wrong. For one thing, he was warm, and in mid-November, that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Even with his eyes closed, he could tell he was indoors: there was a grapefruit glow bleeding through from under his lashes, unlike the dim egg white of Central Park’s lampposts he was used to. He hated eggs, but he hated grapefruit more, and come to think of it, all fruit more, so this was a step down.

He opened his eyes. He was on his back, lying in a four-post bed, king-sized. Blue curtains were drawn back to the corners like a bird arching its wings before flight. It had been a while since he was in a bed, but Clancy could recall the feeling easily. The softness under his spine. The way the feathers in the pillow did their best to tickle his skin. It was definitely the opposite of the dirt-under-grass-under-cardboard-under-newspapers feeling he’d gotten used to. His joints didn’t know what to do with this sudden coziness.

Where the hell was he?

And how the hell did he end up there?

The previous evening started normally enough. Just walking the streets of his city. Digging through garbage cans in Little Italy. Searching for spare pieces of wood near construction sites. Ignoring the judgmental looks from the fancy folks in their suits and ties and faux fur coats. After finishing the hot dog that prim and proper man bought for him and basically corralled him into eating, he returned to his home in Hooverville and found the roof on his shack was mysteriously gone, only a week after he had replaced it, too.

Without asking, his neighbors told him they knew nothing, as if that was going to be of some help. Clancy didn’t want their help. He didn’t need it. He was in the business of taking care of his own needs, not making friends. While his neighbors, like the young couple on his right or the old woman on his left, mingled and made small talk with each other and the rest of the community, Clancy preferred to bunker down in his shack, his little box, and whittle soldiers out of the spare wood he had hopefully found that day, arranging them on a separate piece of wood that acted as a shelf. All that small talk and overall noise from the outside world would sometimes make him claustrophobic, make it seem as though the walls were tilting on top of him like a drawbridge. Clancy took these moments as a cue to get some shut eye early, knowing he would wake with a clear mind.

His mind was anything but clear when he stepped inside of his now roofless home. A jumble of exhausted thoughts had begun to unravel and wrap around his eyes. He couldn’t make heads nor tails of anything racing through his mind; it all sounded foreign, invented. He did his best to fluff up his newspaper mattress as though it was real cotton. He caught sight of old headlines about silver prices soaring and a new clash in Manchuria, but the words quickly blurred, and the ink smeared and dripped down the pages like veins. He couldn’t understand where this sudden fatigue came from; he was feeling awake literally just moments before. Maybe it was the extra cold, the threat of snowfall telling his body it needed to save some energy for the inevitable shivers that were coming. He did his best to make even the tiniest of fires, but it proved to be a futile task, as he kept dropping his matches into the dirt and losing them. He wrapped himself in his threadbare quilt, the one his mother had knitted when he was a boy, all the oranges faded to brown and the purples faded to brown and the browns faded to lighter shades of brown. He lay down on the newspapers, curled into a ball, and hoped pneumonia wasn’t in his future; he didn’t want a repeat of what happened last winter.

After that, he had no idea.

It was a dreamless sleep. There were no abrupt sounds that sprung him from unconsciousness, no feeling of being moved from one place to another. It was as though a magician had transported him with just the flick of his wrist. Clancy didn’t remember volunteering, though, nor would he ever volunteer for something as stupid as a magic trick. It was more likely that someone had slipped him a mickey and dragged him away while he remained none the wiser. But he hadn’t drunk or eaten anything that could have had…

The hot dog.

The kind and pushy gentleman.

Hell’s bells.

He squinted his eyes at the citrus gleam and tried to sit, ready to make a mad dash out of there, wherever there was. But he couldn’t. His arms were constricted at his sides. He was trapped. His breath caught in his throat. His pulse thrummed in his neck like a rubber ball in a game of Jacks. He smelled the smoke of the battlefield. He tasted the soil mixed with blood and metal. He heard the gunshots, the bullets whizzing over his head, the screams from the Jerries. He saw the barbed wire fence…

He had to get out of there. NOW. But try as he might, his arms could not move…

Until he tried harder and found that he was merely bundled up tightly under many layers of blankets. There was no wire, nor was there rope; he was just tucked into the bed like a toddler. The panic shrank. He shimmied his arms free from underneath the blankets, scooched his backside up until he reached the flat surface of the headboard and assumed a sitting position.

Everything in the bedroom was sepia-toned, something out of an old photograph. It gave everything the look of gold, of luxury. Sure enough, every item in the room looked like it carried the highest price tag at one point or another: the beside lamp had a perfect bronze sheen, something the lampshade mirrored with ease; a vanity was tucked into a corner, polished so perfectly that each surface looked like chocolate; paintings hung on the walls at perfect right angles, the images conveying ships lost at sea, some in storms, some in sunlight; and a white, wooden armoire stood guard by the adjacent bathroom entrance, one of the doors left slightly open a crack, the one imperfection in the entire room.

This was definitely part of a penthouse, possibly part of that building that opened a few years back, between 65thand 66th, the place where Ginger Rogers was rumored to live. There was a window to his right, peach curtains pulled over the glass. Clancy crawled out from under the blankets and shuffled to the window to peer outside. Sure enough, he could see Central Park sitting under a gray sky. A light morning drizzle pawed at the glass in front of him. He may have been many stories up high, but at least he wasn’t far from home.

He went to the bedroom door and tugged at the knob. It didn’t budge. He tugged harder, so hard he expected the thing would stretch out like salt water taffy, but it was no use. He went back to the window. He could maybe break it open, but unless he felt like splattering all over a taxi cab, that probably was not the best option.

He rubbed his throat delicately. He put a hand on his chest to ease his heart or his breathing, and he noticed something. He wasn’t in his clothes. His overcoat with the bad stitches on the right sleeve was gone. His boots, brown and tattered and pretty much only good for protecting just the topsof his feet: gone. His red checkered scarf, with its bitter scent of dry almonds: gone. Instead, he now donned some fresh pajamas, maroon, velvety, like touching the smooth side of a mossy rock in a pond. A pair of matching slippers were laid out beside the bed, almost beckoning Clancy to stick his feet inside them. He did so, begrudgingly.

Whoever lived here certainly wasn’t affected by the Crash, not if they could afford to sleep so snuggly.

As soon as his feet were done tolerating the comfort of the slippers, there were noises approaching from outside the bedroom door. A tinny jingle that could only be keys politely colliding into each other; the click and clack of shoes hitting the floor. Clancy watched as the doorknob began to turn. He looked around, searching for some kind of hiding place, but beyond slipping back under the covers and playing dead, or diving into the armoire that might have a defective door, there were not many choices. He settled for backing all the way into the corner like a mouse.

The door opened, and there stood the man who had purchased Clancy the hot dog. The man looked to be in his late sixties, his sunken eyes nested between a pointed nose that looked like it could slice open a ham. His hair was slicked back, black with literal gray spots, giving him the look of an exotic animal, an ocelot or some kind of odd cat Clancy had only seen pictures of in books. The man’s suit was blue like the sea at night. The way he stood, he looked flat and stiff, as though his body were made of metal bars. With a white-gloved hand, he held a platter with a dish upon it, covered with a silver dome.

“Oh good,” the man said in a curt but welcoming voice, “you’re awake. I have your breakfast, sir. As I do not know your tastes just yet, I took the liberty of making for you poached eggs with a side of fresh fruit. Your tea has just begun to steep and should be ready in approximately three minutes.”

Clancy only blinked.

“Shall I place the meal down, sir?” the man asked, not really waiting for an answer and moving to the vanity to place down the tray.

Clancy blinked again. He tried to find his words, but all that came out were squeaks; he really was a mouse, now caught in a trap, gasping for air, trying to make sense of his predicament. He pictured the field, how the dirt tasted in his mouth, how he whined and whined for help as the bullets flew over him, how he couldn’t move, how he hated himself for going over the top in an effort to escape without any real plan, how Ben jumped out of the trench to come to his friend’s aid…

“I’m sure you are bewildered as to your current situation,” the man said.

Clancy nodded and found his words, “Yeah. Just a bit.”

“Well. You are in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Witt. I am their butler, Stanhope.”

Clancy cleared his throat and spoke again. “That’s it? Just ‘Stanhope’?” he said.

“Indeed,” Stanhope answered. His mind seemed to wander, and his eyes seemed to retreat further back in their sockets like they were rotting berries, shriveling in record time. He shook his head a few times and returned his gaze to Clancy. “I’ll go check on your tea.” He started to leave.

“Hey, hey, hold it,” Clancy said, stepping forward, though he didn’t know why; the closer he got to Stanhope, the larger that feeling of unease in his chest seemed to grow. Stanhope did stop and turned back. Clancy gulped, tried to find moisture in his mouth. “You didn’t explain nothin’. This is where Mr. and Mrs. Witt live? Okay. I don’t know them from Adam. Why am Ihere?”

Now it was Stanhope’s turn to just blink at the man in front of him.

Clancy rubbed his hand through his long hair; it felt washed, not oily and fine like usual. He quickly drew his hand away. “Did you slip me a mick in that hot dog?”

Stanhope looked at the floor. “Regrettably, yes, I did, sir,” he admitted. “My apologies. My options were beginning to wither, and I needed to act quickly.”

“Can you stop speaking vaguely and just tell me what’s goin’ on?” Clancy demanded.

Stanhope cast his gaze even lower. “My apologies again, sir.” He took a breath. “Mr. and Mrs. Witt have… taken leave… and I have been without employment for longer than I care to divulge. So, just as I took it upon myself to prepare your breakfast unprompted, I have also taken it upon myself to find a new employer. That would be you, sir, Mister…”

“Uh… Clancy.”

“Mr. Clancy.” Stanhope grinned and nodded with approval.

“No, Clancy’s my first name… Just Clancy’s fine, um…” He rubbed his hands down his new pajamas and suppressed a shudder. “Okay. Okay. You slipped me a mick and brought me here. And you did that to… make me your new employer? That’s, uh, kind of topsy turvy there, pal.”

Stanhope’s face turned dark. “Would you rather remain in that shantytown?” he asked, his voice lower, almost with an echo behind it. “Scrambling for sustenance in the darkest of alleyways? Spending your days with miscreants and vagabonds who would likely cut you open with a dagger as soon as they’d look at you? Behaving like a common sewer rat.” Stanhope seemed to hold a gag back in his throat. “And that shack you were staying in? That is no way to live, sir. That is the utmost hell one could possibly imagine. It may as well be your coffin.” Stanhope shook his head in disgust and took a breath. “Here, you have…” He chuckled. “Here, you have everything.”

“Everything…” Clancy started. He looked around the room again. Stanhope wasn’t wrong. Although he had yet to show Clancy the rest of the place, Clancy figured there were just as many ornate items splayed across every inch of it. Chandeliers, fine art, probably even marble sculptures of this Witt couple. He pictured china that glistened even in the dark, silverware that needed to be handled with gloves not dissimilar to the ones the butler was wearing as any bare hand would no doubt leave smudges and lessen the value. He imagined meals that featured whole chickens and boiled vegetables and hopefully no eggs. He pictured himself walking around with a cane just for the hell of it, giving it a twirl, dancing with it like Chaplin. But…

“No,” Clancy said. “Just, no. I don’t want this. I didn’t ask for this. Even if I did, I can’t employ you or nothin’. I don’t even have a sawbuck to my name. I’ve been living in that shack for a while, see, and I like it there. Okay? That’s my home. So, no, no, just take me back. I don’t want your help.”

Stanhope just stared, frowning. He looked like he was melting. Soon, though, a smile slowly rose up his cheeks as though pulled on strings by an invisible puppeteer and he took a deep breath. He placed his hands behind his back and straightened up even further, seemingly clicking his heels as he did so. “You should really try the eggs, sir. I know they look like nothing special, but trust me, I know my way around a kitchen.”

“Yeah, see,” Clancy said, “I don’t like eggs. Or fruit, really, too. But that’s the least of my problems here right now, you understand? I gotta scram, so can I scram? Now?”

“And I have assurances that the fruit is freshly—”

“You’re not listening to me, bud!” Clancy screamed. Panic was squeezing his ribs again. Images of the trench began to stomp inside his head. He saw the captain follow Ben out, either to help him or to pull him back, Clancy would never know. He heard the mine detonate. He smelled the captain’s wet insides as the man burst like a firework. And then Ben, thrown back by the explosion, landing in the barbed wire…

He needed to get out of that penthouse, out of those pajamas, out of whatever boondoggle of Stanhope’s he’d stumbled into, but something told him that this butler wasn’t going to let him leave so easily. He’d have to fight his way out. The last fight he had been in was seven months ago, when a hobo (or “miscreant,” as Stanhope seemed to refer to them) snuck into Clancy’s shack in an attempt to rob him. The hobo tried to slip the blanket Clancy’s mother had made for him right off his body while he slept. Clancy immediately awoke and tackled the hobo to the ground. The subsequent struggle left the hobo with three missing teeth and Clancy with two black eyes, but at least Clancy retained his precious heirloom.

Clancy took a breath. He wasn’t in the mood to look through a pair of swollen peepers again, or whatever this Stanhope might have been capable of doing to him. He didn’t want to enact any violence, period, not after living through so much of it already. “I don’t belong here,” Clancy said slowly, “and I don’t want your help. Got it?”

Time stood still. The two men merely stared at each other, breathing softly, waiting for someone to do something. It was Stanhope who broke the silence: “I shall check on your tea.” He quickly spun back to the door, exited, spun back and closed it. Clancy stood there, dumbfounded. There was another jangle of keys and the doorknob turned with a click, and Clancy knew he was locked in.


Hours passed…

Stanhope didn’t return. No porcelain cup of tea was presented for Clancy. Clancy bided his time by pacing from one wall to another. He relieved himself in the bathroom several times; he only really had to go once, so the other attempts were out of boredom and took some force. He toyed again with the idea of hiding in the armoire, waiting for the butler to return, and performing some sort of sneak attack in order to escape. But after fifteen minutes of hiding in the musty armoire, claustrophobia began to onset, so he had to exit back into the room.

He also spent a good amount of time just staring at the breakfast. His stomach was scraping against itself, begging for Clancy to grab the fork and alleviate its suffering. But he couldn’t do it. He could barely even reach for the plate. It wasn’t just that it was disgusting fruit and disgusting eggs, nor was it out of fear that another mickey was hidden somewhere in the meal, though that thought did cross his mind more than once. It was that it came from another person. It was that it was given to him, graciously. He couldn’t accept it. He could barely understand it. It was still food, after all, so that should have trumped everything else, right? And some food was better than no food, wasn’t it? He eventually did find the strength to approach the food, but instead of eating it, he dumped it all off the plate and under the bed. He placed the plate back on the tray and felt a pool of relief pour out inside of him. His stomach, on the other hand, scolded him with more rumbles.

Finally, late in the afternoon, footsteps approached the bedroom door. The clanging of the key entering the lock came, and the knob slowly began to turn. In a split second, Clancy decided to make a break for it. He would push passed Stanhope and keep going, even if the cup of tea spilled onto his own chest and scalded him. He would work through it, search for an exit, find a weapon to defend himself if he had to, though he hoped it would not come to that. He just needed to get out. That’s all that mattered.

The door opened, and Clancy began to rush forward. He only got five steps into his dash before he saw what Stanhope was holding and skidded to an inelegant stop. Stanhope did not carry a cup of tea.

He held Clancy’s blanket.

Clancy regained his balance and stood up straight, suddenly territorial. He wanted to rip the blanket from the butler’s hands, maybe continue his daring escape afterwards, but Stanhope calmly stepped forward and presented the blanket for him warmly. It was folded into a thick cube. It looked solid, heavy; the holes were filled with the other holes. It almost looked like a gift, one which Clancy, surprisingly, did not have any issues accepting.

“I apologize for the delay,” Stanhope said, turning back to shut the door. “I took a trip back to the park and back to your… home.” He said “home” like it was a dirty word. Stanhope continued, “It proved to be a risky endeavor, to be perfectly honest. A filthy, old woman made efforts to chase me down upon my exit from the shack. I will admit I feared for my life.” He chuckled. “But it was worth it. This quilt looks old, but it resonates importance. It was the one thing in there that looked like it didn’t belong, and so…” He clicked his heels triumphantly.

Clancy didn’t know what to say. He still wanted to leave this penthouse, from the butler’s odd stronghold over him, as quickly as possible. But with his mother’s blanket in his arms, the scratchy wool nibbling at his fingers, he suddenly felt more at peace, as though the thing was made of opium. He looked up at Stanhope. “Thanks,” he said.

“You are quite welcome, sir.” Stanhope looked over at the tray where the eggs and fruit had lay. “Ah, I see you partook in your breakfast. Splendid.”

Clancy did his best to not look back at the bed.

“Now, onto other matters.” Stanhope pulled something from his jacket pocket: a silvery pair of scissors.

Clancy clutched tightly onto the blanket and held his breath. Great, now what?

“Your hair is much too long,” Stanhope explained. “I mean no offense, of course, but I was hoping I could interest you in a bit of a trim.”

Clancy exhaled, but his anxiety did not diminish. The way Stanhope was staring at him, what with his expectant eyes, like that of a dying man begging for someone to just end it for him, like that of Ben as he screamed, tangled in the barbed wire, his face joined with metal stars, crumbs of blood spotting his face… Clancy knew he owed Stanhope nothing, but he nevertheless felt compelled to nod yes. Stanhope smiled.

They moved to the adjacent bathroom. Stanhope fetched a polished, wooden chair for Clancy to sit. He removed his white gloves and wet Clancy’s hair in the sink; it was already washed, so it didn’t require any detangling, but Clancy nevertheless held his breath while this happened, pretended to be a mannequin, a doll with which Stanhope could amuse himself. The butler covered Clancy’s shoulders with a white bath towel and ran a comb through the dampened hair. Each snip from the scissors sounded like paper tearing.

“Mrs. Witt didn’t enjoy the salons,” Stanhope said midway through the haircut. “She didn’t trust their hands or their eyes. So, it was left to me to shear and style my mistress’s hair. It was quite exquisite, sir. Red as apples.”

“Mm-hm,” Clancy muttered. He was still doing his best to pretend to be inanimate.

“May I be so bold,” Stanhope began, “as to comment on the wooden models I spied in the shack? The soldiers.”

Clancy mm-hm-ed once more.

“They were very impressive. I almost gathered them as well, but then the frightening old woman appeared and I had to run. If you would like me to retrieve them, I will do so post haste, old woman be damned.”

Clancy gave the mildest of shrugs. Stanhope picked a ribbon of hair from the top of Clancy’s head and accidentally tugged at it as he severed it in half. Clancy wondered if that was Stanhope’s way of demanding that he be tasked to collect the wooden soldiers.

“You were in The Great War, I presume?” Stanhope asked, chopping off a few more threads.

The mere mention of the phrase “The Great War” brought bile to Clancy’s throat, so much so that it took three swallows to push it back down. A sour taste lingered on his tongue, though, like old lemons.

Stanhope seemed to sense Clancy’s apprehension, for he said, “I have said something wrong. I am so sorry, sir. I will not inquire again. Forgive me.” Clancy watched him in the mirror as he put down the scissors for a second and braced himself against the wall, as though he, too, were remembering his time in battle. But that couldn’t be, Clancy thought. Stanhope was too old to have fought. It was something else. On the one hand, Clancy didn’t care at all, but on the other hand, to his surprise, he found himself pitying the old man.

“No, it’s okay,” Clancy said. “Yeah, yeah, I was there.”

Stanhope’s reflection let his hand slide off the wall and he straightened up. He creaked his neck to the side and cleared his throat, as if resetting, returning to his stiff and proper manner, wiping away all memory of what just took place. He took another strip of hair and cut it.

“I had a nephew who served,” said Stanhope. “You probably didn’t know him. Thomas Macy?”

Clancy shrugged.

“Well, he passed not long after deployment. If he were here today, I am sure he would express his disappointment that such a thing happened. He would have preferred to last longer, to fight. He was happy to be drafted and was happy to be sent overseas, to do his duty.”

Clancy snickered. “Bet he wasn’t happy to die there.”

“Even so,” Stanhope said matter-of-factly.

That spoiled lemon flavor returned to Clancy’s mouth. He leaned forward, away from Stanhope’s scissors, and turned back to glare at the man. “Did you really just say that? Tell me you didn’t just say that.”

Stanhope dropped his arms to his sides. “I have said another thing to upset you. Forgive me, sir, I—”

“Stop with the sorries, alright?” Clancy got on his feet. A rage spread over him like a fever. “I guarantee you, what, Thomas? Guarantee you he didn’t feel pride at being shot or being blown up or gettin’ a face full of mustard gas. Whatever killed the bastard, doesn’t matter. There’s no way he was looking forward to dyin’, which was all but a certainty over there. I’m amazed I made it out one piece.”

Stanhope looked down at his wing tipped shoes. “I am sorry, sir, and I’m sorry for saying sorry once more. But you misunderstand. All I mean to say is that my nephew adored this country and was excited to serve. He wanted to make a difference. That is all. He felt, as I do, that there was much honor in it. To serve. It gives one a sense of purpose. And what are we without purpose?”

“Safe!” Clancy spat. The word stunned him. His breath caught itself on the roof of his mouth and hung there like a beehive. He pressed his lips together and heard a grinding sound from his jaw.

Now it was Stanhope who considered Clancy with some sort of pity. “Sir…” he began, but he couldn’t continue. He gripped the top of the wooden chair with one hand and attempted a small smile. “Allow me to finish your haircut,” he said.

“No,” Clancy replied. “I’m done sampling the high life.” He walked out of the bathroom, grabbed his blanket off the king bed and approached the door, only to freeze once he remembered it locked from both ways. He turned back to Stanhope, who had taken position beside the bed, arms at his side; the scissors dangled awkwardly from two fingers on his right hand. “Let me out,” Clancy said. “Let me out. Let me out.”

Stanhope dug his wingtips into the floor. “I will not. I need you to stay.”

“And I need you to open the goddamn door. Let me out.”

“I am sorry, sir, but I refuse.”

Clancy growled. He slammed his shoulder against the door, over and over again. He tugged at the knob, each subtle click of the metal against wood giving him the smallest amount of hope that he would successfully wrench open the door like a bear. But it was no use.

He banged his body more against the door, and with each bang, he heard the bang of rifles firing. He heard bombs drop, mines detonate. He heard Ben’s wails as he lay tangled in the wire, all his calls out for Clancy just as Clancy had called out for him. He closed his eyes and could see Ben getting smaller and smaller as his fellow soldiers pulled Clancy away, back underground. He felt the heat from the blood as it splashed across his lips when his fellow soldiers were shot one by one, transforming from living, breathing souls to empty heaps in the dirt. Each bang brought an ache in his bones like the impact he felt after somersaulting down the ladder and into the safety of the trench. Behind him, he felt Stanhope’s worried and confused gaze, just as the soldiers in the trench gawked at him upon his return, dumbstruck at the idiocy they just witnessed and the cost that came with it.

“Get me out of here,” Clancy whispered through his teeth, almost in prayer, but to whom, he didn’t know. He turned to Stanhope and said it again, now less of a plea and more of a demand, “Get me out of here.”

Stanhope shook his head no.

Clancy dropped the blanket and charged forward like a guard dog released from its chain. He grabbed Stanhope by the arms. He pushed him all the way to the window and smashed Stanhope’s spine against it. He dug his fingers into the butler’s coat and yelled into his face, “Let me out!”

Stanhope looked on the verge of tears. A bright pink burn began to coat every crease in his face, giving him the look of raw meat from a butcher’s shop. He tried to wriggle his arms free from Clancy’s grip, but Clancy held on more tightly. Any tighter and he began to wonder if Stanhope would pop like a balloon. That thought brought to mind the captain exploding into fragments, and Clancy shuddered, felt lighter. His hold on Stanhope loosened, and the butler took the opportunity and slashed at Clancy’s arms with the scissors he still held.

Clancy staggered backwards. The scissors had sliced through the pajamas and made contact with the flesh of Clancy’s shoulder. A purple stain began to swell around the tear. Clancy clutched at the wound; it wasn’t deep, but the sting did its best to choke him.

Stanhope dropped the scissors in horror. His mouth and eyes and nostrils all became perfect circles. A thin line of sound started to leak from his throat. It grew thicker and louder before finally turning into something coherent: “Oh, no. No, no, no. No, no, no, no, no, no, no.” He edged around Clancy, for which Clancy didn’t blame him; he still wanted to throttle Stanhope, after all, and would have done so had Stanhope inched any closer. Stanhope shuffled his feet all the way to the door and unlocked it with his key. “I will fetch some aid,” he said, and he ran out of the room.

This nightmare won’t end, Clancy thought. He was on his own, and even he couldn’t help himself. Pity began to creep its way into his mind, but no, Clancy couldn’t let it win. Things were terrible, sure, but things had always been terrible. It was his version of terrible, and dammit if he wasn’t going to get there again. He just needed to figure out how. How to escape, how to just disappear, how to…

The bedroom door was open.

In his haste, Stanhope had forgotten to close and lock the door behind him.

Shake a leg, Clancy.


Still clasping his shoulder, he snatched up his blanket and burst out of the room. He crossed through a small hallway and into a large gallery. There were no marble sculptures like he had expected, though there were more similar looking paintings of boats like the ones in the bedroom. A large, golden living room made itself known on his right. Two violet couches faced each other, still and identical, like twins hypnotized by their own likeness. In fact, the whole room looked like it reflected itself down the middle, what with the black coffee tables in the center that each held immaculately-placed ashtrays, fruit bowls and flowers in vases decorated with flowers. The only thing to disrupt the symmetry was the view from the window: the various dead branches from the trees in Central Park, zigging and zagging this way and that, reaching up from beneath the windowsill to the silhouettes of the buildings on the other side of the city.

On Clancy’s left, however, was something more important: the front door. Hopefully this one didn’t lock from both sides, too.

He sped to the door, only to be stopped by a howl from the other room. He froze, immediately thought of Ben and how he screamed and screamed Clancy’s name for hours while Clancy sat safely in the trench, and how Ben’s final cry was cut short by a single gunshot. This noise now, though, was different. It wasn’t out of pain, nor was it out of fear. It was pure sorrow.

Clancy couldn’t stop himself: he moved in the direction of the noise. He entered a dining room. The smell of rust and smoke and rot filled the air, and it didn’t take him long to see why.

At the dining room table, two bodies rested their heads on their dinner plates. A man and a woman, their faces beginning to turn blue. They looked to be dead for only a handful of days, but flies buzzed over their heads and crawled out of their ears, nonetheless. The man could be called handsome, someone destined for Hollywoodland, were it not for the gaping red hole in his right temple, dried blood slavering down his face, into his eyes, his nose, his mouth, and back out onto the table. The woman’s face was down so Clancy could not see it. If she still had one, that is, for she had her own gaping hole blowing out the back of her head, skin peeled back like flower petals. The blood in her already red hair made it stiff and spindly like an insect’s limbs. Each body had a gun resting on the floor beside it, under their limp arms.

That howl came back, and Clancy noticed Stanhope, crumpled up in the corner, his chin resting on his knees. He looked up at the bodies longingly. His face was soggy from tears. A first aid kit lay ajar on the floor, bandages scattered and a bottle of antiseptic open and spilling its silvery contents onto the carpet.

Stanhope looked up at Clancy and wiped his face with the back of his hand, prepared to stand up and resume his butlery posture. But he gave up halfway through and stayed on the floor, defeated.

“I was preparing dessert when I heard the shots,” Stanhope said. “A flan. They loved flan. I couldn’t tell you why, as it was never my personal favorite, but they enjoyed it immensely, so I would make it for them often.” He sniffed. “We had avoided any and all effects from the stock market crash for so long. I did not believe that it would ever loom its ugly head in our direction.”

Clancy looked back at the bodies. Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Witt had been prosperous, possibly even lucky. They probably never asked for help; they didn’t need to, not with their wealth, and certainly not with an eager servant like Stanhope, and yet they ended up dead all the same. Granted, it was by their own hands, something within their control, a choice made in darkness where other, better choices could not be seen. But this is where they ended up. This was their story. This was everyone’s story, and it didn’t matter how they got there. The ending came for them, the Witts, in their penthouse apartment, with their paintings of ships one squall away from sinking, their polished this and their polished that, their desperate and possibly psychotic butler.

At least they tried, Clancy told himself. Right? They made the most of everything they had. They had no way of knowing what was coming, whether or not it would destroy them. Destruction was probably the furthest thing from their minds. They lived. They failed, but they lived.

“I miss them,” Stanhope said. “I don’t know what to do.” He seemed to shrink more into the floor, his knees up higher than his head as it rested in the corner wall. “Who am I if I can’t serve anyone?” Stanhope asked Clancy directly, looking up at him with dilated eyes.

As soon as Stanhope looked away, Clancy backed out of the dining room. He approached the front door and carefully put his hand on the knob, as though the slightest touch might trigger a boobytrap. He turned it. There was no boom, no fire, only the cool air from the hallway. Clancy heard Stanhope moan one more time, and then he shut the door behind him as he left.

The sunset was just beginning by the time Clancy made it outside. He moved as though through a fog, struggled through some dense, invisible force that pushed at his muscles. He clutched his cut shoulder and crossed the street to enter the park. A sparrow popped onto the ground in front of him as if to say hello and flew away just as quickly. It had been less than a day since Clancy had seen his Hooverville, but it felt like he was returning from overseas, grateful, and ashamed, already prepared to throw it all away and live in solitude, leave his apartment without a word, take to the streets, fend for himself, only himself, no way of knowing the Crash would happen and add others to the streets of New York City, to his home.

When he arrived at his neighborhood, he found all those people, talking and smiling and laughing together. They each held metal cups in their gloved hands. Some spooned globs of a gravy-like goop into their mouths and licked their lips. His old neighbor was in the doorway of her little home. She scooped the stew out of a cast iron pot that stood over a small flame and into the others’ cups. She did this with an ear-to-ear smile.

It was a block party in a ‘hood with no blocks.

Clancy hurried toward his shack, doing his best to keep his head down, but he looked up once and caught the old woman’s eye. Her smile grew even wider. She grabbed a spare cup, ladled some stew into it and held it out for Clancy to take. Gasps of steam swirled upwards and seemed to stand still in the air. Clancy saw a cube of potato floating in the middle of the stew.

“Have some,” his neighbor said. She looked Clancy up and down and snickered. “Nice jammies,” she teased, and she shook the cup, urging Clancy to take it.

“No thanks,” he said, and before the woman could insist, he dragged his feet to his shack and stepped inside.

Everything looked the same, except some of the wooden soldiers had been rearranged or knocked onto the ground. Clancy placed the blanket down on the newspapers and picked up the fallen models, placing them back on the wooden plank shelf. He looked up at where the ceiling should be; the sky was fiery, tropical, wisps of white painted over mango and melon.

Someone knocked on the side of his shack. Clancy looked up. His neighbor stood in the doorway. She still held the cup of stew. So much for avoiding her insistence.

“I’m really not hungry,” Clancy lied.

The old woman sighed. “Well. If you change your mind, I’ll just leave it over here.” She took a step inside and placed the cup on the shelf next to the soldiers. “Some fop was in here earlier, by the way, digging through your things. I scared him off, though.”

“Thanks,” Clancy said.

“Of course. What are friends for? We gotta look out for each other.” The woman returned to the doorway but turned back. “Come outside when you can,” she said. “We’re having a little shindig.” She shook her hips a little like a dog wagging its tail and smiled. She backed out of the shack and left Clancy alone.

Clancy looked at the cup of stew. It filled the room with the smell of salt and childhood. His stomach clawed at itself, begged him to reach for it and take just one sip or one spoonful of the stuff.

Clancy backed away from the shelf and took a seat on his bed. He wrapped himself up in his blanket, his eyes locked on the cup. He knew he should eat it. He knew he should go outside and talk to people, to make friends, to be around others. He knew he shouldn’t stay cooped up in this box, walled off, not real, not alive. He knew all of this.

All he could do was sit there and stare at the stew. He could not move.