Today's Reading

Phoebe stacked up her newspapers, all folded open to local crime reports, and put up another pot of coffee. She lit a cigarette and sat on the makeshift window seat, wrapping her stockinged toes around the jamb and letting her skirt flutter outside the open window in what she hoped looked very devil-may-care without being too saucy. It was warm, and many windows up and down Perry Street were open. Phoebe took long, luxurious drags on her cigarette, reveling in all the street sounds. Other typewriters, of course, clacking away, and music everywhere, some single instruments, some groups, rehearsing or creating or teaching. Next door was the Disorderly Theatre Company, a clutch of young men in a living room, shouting scenes from a political play that even the bohemians of Greenwich Village would say was laying it on a touch thick. But there was always the chance it would blossom into something that would make the world sit up and take notice. That happened.

Shop doors were open, and Phoebe watched the steady flow of commerce in and out of the butcher's, grocer's, and fishmonger's. If she leaned out a touch farther, she could see the regulars draped over the outside tables of the Coffee Nook, where the proprietors Floyd and Leo made cappuccinos more addictive than cocaine. It was a sign of being a true Village artist if one was allowed to give a reading or play music any night at the Nook, especially a Thursday. Floyd and Leo presided over the lineup with a severity that would have been the envy of Stalin.

The bread seller came down the street on his bicycle, accosted on all sides by housewives vying for the freshest loaves. The artists tussled for the best day-old bread. Phoebe was tempted to run down for a loaf, but was too comfortable in the sunshine. It was like being in an Italian film. Those first early scenes where everyone is poor but happy, scraping along and dreaming big. Anything could happen over the next hour and a half.

"Hey, Adler!" Jimmy shouted up at her. Phoebe sighed. In a film, the neighbor from across the road might or might not turn out to be her true love—the very idea of which Phoebe found snort-worthy—but he would at least be charming. He would keep the audience guessing. Though Jimmy wasn't without his usefulness. Phoebe had written three different scripts in which a scrawny, moon-faced buffoon of a young man turned out to be a criminal mastermind.

Not that she really minded Jimmy. As she said to Anne, "He's charmless, but harmless." "That's as may be," Anne replied. "But I wish he'd try to close his mouth when he's around me. Not even a bloodhound drools that much." There was no use in pointing out that all men drooled around Anne. Jimmy's insistence on being friends with Phoebe was mostly based on her friendship with Anne. Phoebe's comparative writing success and general cheerfulness might be other reasons, but they were a distant second.

"Do a fellow a favor, huh, and lend me a gasper?" he begged from under Phoebe's window, where he was weeding Mrs. Pocatelli's front garden.

"She'll rip your head off if you smoke among the squashes," Phoebe told him. "Then she'll use your torso as a planter." Mrs. Pocatelli, Phoebe and Anne's tiny, wizened landlady and the general terror of Perry Street, would make a terrific fictional criminal, but Phoebe had yet to write a script about a crime orchestrated by Mrs. Pocatelli that wouldn't run afoul of the network censors.

"I'll take my chances," Jimmy said, and Phoebe obliged him, tying the end of a ball of yarn around one of her Lucky Strikes and unwinding the ball until the cigarette landed in his hand. He freed it and she wound the yarn back up to her knitting basket.

"You'd better not need a match," she warned. He grinned and produced a lighter from his pocket. She saw him cast a furtive, fearful glance into Mrs. Pocatelli's window before lighting up. "I'll leave you to it," Phoebe said. "I don't mind the sight of blood, but I don't have time to be dragged into a murder trial."

"You working on a paying job up there?" Jimmy asked, his voice carefully casual.

Phoebe sighed. Jimmy wasn't the only Perry Street denizen who made it hard to escape back to work with grace. He was a writer too, and good at what he did, but here he was scrabbling in the dirt for two hours, to earn one dollar and a few lesser cabbages and beets. Not that Phoebe didn't struggle herself. Most of the month she lived on potatoes and eggs. But Phoebe was undeniably on a different level from the other strivers on the street. She had written for radio, and now a television show aired scripts with her name emblazoned on the credits. It didn't matter that it was a lesser show on a lesser network. Phoebe Adler was that strange and glorious thing: A Working Writer. Some men dismissed her success as mere luck, as she'd started writing during the war when they were off serving (she spent her days building fighter planes but was the first to insist it wasn't at all the same). She knew they thought she should be living a different sort of life now, allowing them her opportunities. But they also knew why she needed to work so hard, so grudges were never held long.
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