Posted Friday morning, March 23, 2018.
Couple weeks ago I joked that Denis Johnson had sneaked a birthday card to me into his short story “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden”. I could have added he sneaked a winter post card from New York City into it too, but I wouldn’t have been joking and he didn’t sneak it. The story includes a number of post cards from the City to the point that’s almost the reason to read the story. Almost. But it is a reason. A good reason.
The narrator is a California advertising executive nearing the end of his career returning to accept an award in the city where he’d started that career decades before:
It was I think around 1 a.m. Snow six inches deep had fallen. Park Avenue looked smooth and soft---not one vehicle had disturbed its surface. The city was almost completely stopped, its very few sounds muffled yet perfectly distinct from one another: a rumbling snow plow somewhere, a car’s horn, a man on another street shouting several fain syllables. I tried counting up the years since I’d seen snow. Eleven or twelve---Denver, and it had been exactly the same, exactly like this. One lone taxis glided up Park Avenue through the virgin white and I hailed it and asked the driver to find any restaurant open for business. I looked out the back window at the brilliant silences falling from the streetlamps, and our fresh black tracks disappearing into the infinite---the only proof of Park Avenue; I’m not sure how the cabbie kept to the road. He took me to a small diner off Union Square, where I had a wonderful breakfast among a handful of miscellaneous wanderers like myself, New Yorkers with their large, historic faces, every one of whom delivered her without an explanation, seemed invaluable. I paid and left and set out walking back toward midtown. I’d bought a pair of weatherproof dress shoes before I leaving San Diego, and I was glad. I looked for places where I was the first to walk and kicked at the powdery snow. A piano playing a Latin tune drew me through a doorway into an atmosphere of sadness: a dim tavern, a stale smell, the piano’s weary melody, and a single customer, an ample attractive woman with abundant blond hair. She wore an evening gown. A light shawl covered her shoulders. She seemed poised and self-possessed, though it was possible, also, that she was weeping.
---from the title story in the collection “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden” by Denis Johnson.