The pleasures of solitude (by John Cheever)
John Cheever (1912—1982) is a well known American storyteller. He started on his literary career at the age of 16. In his works Cheever deals with the complexities of the life of the middle class, the inhabitants of small towns and suburbs of big cities. THE PLEASURES OF SOLITUDE
One evening when Ellen Goodrich had just returned from the office to her room in Chelsea, she heard a light knock on her door. She knew no one in the city intimately; there was no one she could expect. She opened the door and found two small boys standing in the hallway. She supposed they were ten or eleven. Their clothing was thin and they were shaking with cold. "Florence Valle live here?" one of them asked.
"I don't know anyone by that name," Ellen said. "Perhaps if you ask the landlady - she lives on the first floor." "We're looking for Florence Valle. She's his cousin," the second boy said, pointing to his friend. " She used to live here." "I'm very sorry," Ellen said, "but I don't know her."
"Maybe she's moved," he said. "We walked all the way over here..." Ellen very seldom felt that she could afford pity and sympathy for other people, but the boys looked frightened and cold, and her desire to help them was stronger than her reserve. She noticed them staring beyond her to a dish of candy in the room. When she invited them to have a piece, they refused with a shy and elaborate politeness that made her want to take them in her arms. She suggested that they each take a piece of candy home and went into the room for the dish. They followed her. "You got a nice place here, Miss."
"Yuh, you got a nice place here."
Their faces were thin and solemn and their voices were hoarse. "Haven't you any overcoats, you boys?" she asked. "Are you going around in the cold dressed like that?" "We ain't got any overcoats, Miss."
"I should think you'd take cold, walking around like that."
"We ain't got any overcoats."
They told her their names and ages when she asked for them, and said that they lived on the lower East Side. She had walked through the slums herself and she could imagine the squalor and neglect in which they must live. While she was talking with them she realized that it was the first time in more than a year that she had allowed anyone other than the landlady to come into her room. Having the boys there pleased her and she kept asking them questions until she caught the tone of her own excited voice. She stopped abruptly. "I guess you had better go now," she said. "I have some things to do." They thanked her for the candy and backed out of the room. Altogether, the encounter left her feeling generous and happy. Ellen was not a generous person. She lived in a Chelsea rooming house in order to bank as much of her salary as possible toward purchasing an annuity. It had always been difficult for her to find friends. During the ten years she had lived in New York she had suffered a great deal from loneliness, but this suffering was forgotten now because of the care with which she arranged her solitude. She could be unmerciful with herself and others. Her mother had once written asking if she would help her younger brother with a loan. "I think it will be better," Ellen replied, "if Harold experiences a little hardship. It is only in knowing hardship that he can understand the value of money. I don't pretend to be poor, but the little I have in the bank was put at a great sacrifice and I have no intention of lending it to Harold when we all know that he could have done as well himself if he tried. I think he owes it to you to do more than I have done, for, after all, you and Father spent more on his education than you spent on mine." She was twenty-eight at the time. After the boys had gone that night, Ellen changed from her dress into a house coat and cooked her supper. The cold wind rattled the windows and made her appreciate the warm, light room. She washed the dishes and sat down to read a...
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