We have visited briefly with Ross Freeman three times thus far. I skip ahead now to the end of his story, with the complete text of the closing chapter. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the feeling of friendship is strong upon me, and the end of The Smiling Eyes of Children, among other things, seems to express something of the gratitude I feel for the wonderful people I have met through the medium of writing. No doubt that is why it springs to mind. As to whether the entire unpublished novel ever finds a place here in Poems, Notes, and Drawings, your guess is as good as mine.
I Wonder Where They Come From
They talked until after midnight, then he asked Jacobi to take him back to the hotel. Saying good-bye proved harder than he’d imagined. Earlier, when Leanne had offered him a turn at the piano, he had declined. Now, he said, if they didn’t mind, he would sing. He chose one of his old favorites, “Danny Boy.”
Jacobi was amazed. The tenderness in Ross Freeman’s voice seemed to come from another place, a place hidden deep inside and ringed by a forest of memory. There was no question that the writer was singing from his own life, his own loneliness, his own longing and sorrow. The grave in the song could easily have been his own, but he sang for everyone: those departed, and the profusion of souls yet to be born.
In Jacobi’s mind, the writer’s footsteps on the green earth were watered with his own tears. For Ross Freeman, as happy as he always appeared to be, knew the world was a sad place. He knew its children were starving for love, though love was everywhere, and always within their grasp. He knew happiness was not enough, that life itself was not enough, and that even death’s embrace lacked the finality it so eagerly desired. There was something else, and it was that something that made human beings who and what they were — the foolish dreamers, the devout pilgrims, and the tireless searchers that they were.
When the song was over, they looked at each other in silence. He smiled, then gave Leanne a hug. “I’ll miss you,” he said. He turned to Jacobi. “You, too,” he said.
The men shook hands, then hugged each other. “This isn’t good-bye,” Jacobi said.
“It is,” Ross Freeman said. “For now.”
The three of them went downstairs to the car. After giving Leanne another hug, he opened the door and got in. Jacobi asked his wife if she wanted to go with them to the hotel. She hesitated. Ross Freeman said he’d love it if she came along. “Besides,” he added, “you can keep your husband company on the way home.”
She ran upstairs and locked the apartment.
“What a day,” Jacobi said.
“Indeed,” Ross Freeman said. “I wonder where they come from.”
Leanne got into the back seat. “All set,” she said.
Jacobi backed out of their parking space and turned the car around.
The traffic had died down. With their good-byes out of the way, they chatted about the weather and the various signs and buildings they saw as they drove back to the hotel. Even at that hour, Ross Freeman noticed everything, and his curiosity had to be satisfied.
Jacobi parked under the hotel canopy. He offered to walk the writer up to his room, but Ross Freeman refused.
“I’ll call you in a few weeks,” he said. He opened his door and got out. “Thanks again. I don’t think I’d have survived the last few days without you.” He bent down so he could see Leanne. With his hands on his knees, he said, “Thanks for the wonderful meal. And for the music. Next time, I want you to play something you’ve written.”
Leanne promised she would.
He said good-bye and closed the door. To make it easier for everyone, he turned away and walked up to the hotel entrance. A second later, the outer door slid open and he stepped inside. The Jacobis watched as he pushed against the wide oak handle on one of the doors that opened into the lobby. He crossed the carpeted space between the door and the elevator without looking back.
Leanne opened her door and got into the front seat beside her husband. Neither spoke. They started for home.
The elevator door opened. He got in. Being late, he could hear the mechanism at work as he rode up to his floor.
His room smelled like cigarette smoke. He rinsed the scotch glasses and wiped up the water that had collected beneath them on the table. He looked in the ice bucket. The ice they hadn’t used was almost completely melted, so he dumped the contents into the bathroom sink.
After washing his hands and rinsing the debris from the evening meal out of his mustache, he sat on the edge of his bed and took off his shoes. From the bed, he noticed the curtain was still open. While he was closing it, the story he’d written caught his eye. He jogged the pages together and put them on the far side of the table.
He got undressed for bed. Before turning off the lights, he walked back to the table by the window and fed a blank sheet of paper into his typewriter. After centering the page both ways, he typed in two words: The End.
A few minutes later, he fell asleep, wondering about the story that was tomorrow.
Chapter 34, The Smiling Eyes of Children,
an unpublished novel written in 2001
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