There is no jolly irony in Tiny Ewell’s name. He is tiny, an elf-sized U.S. male. His feet barely reach the floor of the taxi. He is seated, being driven east into the grim three-decker districts of East Watertown, west of Boston proper. A rehabilitative staffer wearing custodial whites under a bombardier’s jacket sits beside Tiny Ewell, big arms crossed and staring placid as a cow at the intricately creased back of the cabbie’s neck. The window Tiny is next to has a sticker that thanks him in advance for not smoking. Tiny Ewell wears no winter gear over a jacket and tie that don’t quite go together and stares out his window with unplacid intensity at the same district he grew up in. He normally takes involved routes to avoid Watertown. His jacket a 26S, his slacks a 26/24, his shirt one of the shirts his wife had so considerately packed for him to bring into the hospital detox and hang on hangers that won’t leave the rod. As with all Tiny Ewell’s business shirts, only the front and cuffs are ironed. He wears size 6 Florsheim wingtips that gleam nicely except for one big incongruous scuff-mark of white from where he’d kicked at his front door when he’d returned home just before dawn from an extremely important get-together with potential clients to find that his wife had had the locks changed and filed a restraining order and would communicate with him only by notes passed through the mail-slot below the white door’s black brass (the brass had been painted black) knocker. When Tiny leans down and wipes at the scuff-mark with a slim thumb it only pales and smears. It is Tiny’s first time out of Happy Slippers since his second day at the detox. They took away his Florsheims after 24 abstinent hours had passed and he started to perhaps D.T. a little. He’d kept noticing mice scurrying around his room, mice as in rodents, vermin, and when he lodged a complaint and demanded the room be fumigated at once and then began running around hunched and pounding with the heel of a hand-held Florsheim at the mice as they continued to ooze through the room’s electrical outlets and scurry repulsively about, eventually a gentle-faced nurse flanked by large men in custodial whites negotiated a trade of shoes for Librium, predicting that the mild sedative would fumigate what really needed to be fumigated. They gave him slippers of green foam-rubber with smiley-faces embossed on the tops. The detox’s in-patients are encouraged to call these Happy Slippers. The staff refer to the footwear in private as ‘pisscatchers.’ It is Tiny Ewell’s first day out of rubber slippers and ass-exposing detox pajamas and striped cotton robe in two weeks. The early-November day is foggy and colorless. The sky and the street are the same color. The trees look skeletal. There is bright wet wadded litter all along the seams of street and curb. The houses are skinny three-deckers, mashed together, wharf-gray w/ salt-white trim, madonnas in the yards, bowlegged dogs hurling themselves against the fencing. Some schoolboys in knee-pads and skallycaps are playing street hockey on a passing school’s cement playground. Except none of the boys seems to be moving. The trees’ bony fingers make spell-casting gestures in the wind as they pass. East Watertown is the obvious straight-line easement between St. Mel’s detox and the halfway house’s Enfield, and Ewell’s insurance is paying for the cab. With his small round shape and bit of white goatee and a violent flush that could pass for health of some jolly sort, Tiny Ewell looks like a radically downscaled Burl Ives, the late Burl Ives as an impossible bearded child. Tiny looks out the window at the rose window of the church next to the school playground where the boys are playing/not playing. The rose window is not illuminated from either side.
The man who for the last three days has been Tiny Ewell’s roommate at St. Mel’s Hospital’s detoxification unit sits in a blue plastic straight-back chair in front of his and Ewell’s room’s window’s air conditioner, watching it. The air conditioner hums and gushes, and the man gazes with rapt intensity into its screen of horizontal vents. The air conditioner’s cord is thick and white and leads into a three-prong outlet with black heel-marks on the wall all around it. The November room is around 12° C. The man turns the air conditioner’s dial from setting #4 to setting #5. The curtains above it shake and billow around the window. The man’s face falls into and out of amused expressions as he watches the air conditioner. He sits in the blue chair with a trembling Styrofoam cup of coffee and a paper plate of brownies into which he taps ashes from the cigarettes whose smoke the air conditioner blows straight back over his head. The cigarette smoke is starting to pile up against the wall behind him, and to ooze and run chilled down the wall and form a sort of cloud-bank near the floor. The man’s raptly amused profile appears in the mirror on the wall beside the dresser the two in-patients share. The man, like Tiny Ewell, has the rouged-corpse look that attends detox from late-stage alcoholism. The man is in addition a burnt-yellow beneath his flush, from chronic hepatitis. The mirror he appears in is treated with shatterproof Lucite polymers. The man leans carefully forward with the plate of brownies in his lap and changes the setting on the air conditioner from 5 to 3 and then to 7, then 8, scanning the screen of gushing vents. He finally turns the selector’s dial all the way around to 9. The air conditioner roars and blows his long hair straight back, and his beard blows back over his shoulder, ashes fly and swirl around from his plate of brownies, plus crumbs, and his rodney’s tip glows cherry and gives sparks. He is deeply engaged by whatever he sees on 9. He gives Tiny Ewell the screaming meemies, Ewell has complained. He wears pisscatchers, a striped cotton St. Mel’s robe, and a pair of glasses missing one lens. He has been watching the air conditioner all day. His face produces the little smiles and grimaces of a person who’s being thoroughly entertained.
When the big black rehabilitative staffer placed Tiny Ewell in the taxi and then squeezed in and told the cabbie they wanted Unit #6 in the Enfield Marine VA Hospital Complex just off Commonwealth Ave. in Enfield, the cabbie, whose photo was on the Mass. Livery License taped to the glove compartment, the cabbie, looking back and down at little Tiny Ewell’s neat white beard and ruddy complexion and sharp threads, had scratched under his skallycap and asked if he was sick or something.
Tiny Ewell had said, ‘So it would seem.’
By mid-afternoon on 2 April Y.D.A.U.: the Near Eastern medical attaché; his devout wife; the Saudi Prince Q ——— ’s personal physician’s personal assistant, who’d been sent over to see why the medical attaché hadn’t appeared at the Back Bay Hilton in the A.M. and then hadn’t answered his beeper’s page; the personal physician himself, who’d come to see why his personal assistant hadn’t come back; two Embassy security guards w/ sidearms, who’d been dispatched by a candidiatic, heartily pissed-off Prince Q ———; and two neatly groomed Seventh Day Adventist pamphleteers who’d seen human heads through the living room window and found the front door unlocked and come in with all good spiritual intentions — all were watching the recursive loop the medical attaché had rigged on the TP’s viewer the night before, sitting and standing there very still and attentive, looking not one bit distressed or in any way displeased, even though the room smelled very bad indeed.