Garbo Laughs – Excerpt

Kenny lay awake in the smallest room in the house. It had a narrow bed, a narrow desk, and a cupboard-closet that started partway up the wall. In the dark he could make out his desk covered in books—including his bible, the movie guide of 1996—and his clothes hanging from a hook on the open cupboard door.

With his dad he had gone to a used-clothing store and bought the oversized brown-and-white checked-tweed sports jacket and the red-and-pink tie and the long-sleeved blue shirt, his gangster outfit, and his dad had let him borrow, indefinitely, his black fedora. From Bolivia. His dad was a traveller.

Kenny loved Frank Sinatra. His mom—he couldn’t believe this—thought Marlon Brando was better.

“Who’s better?” he’d asked her.

“Not again,” she said.

“No, wait. Just this time. Who’s better? Frank Sinatra or Marlon Brando?”

“Are you ready for this?” she said. “Can you take it? I’d have

to say Marlon Brando.”

“You’re crazy, you’re nuts. I can’t believe what I’m hearing.”

She laughed, as one nut laughs with another, since she too wore her movie heart on her sleeve. “He’s a better actor. He’s better-looking. Which isn’t to say I don’t like Frank Sinatra. I do. At least, I like the young Frank Sinatra when he looked like Glenn Gould. He was an awful thug when he got older.”

Kenny turned to Dinah, who lived down the street and never minded his questions and always answered them to his liking.

“Who do you like better, Frank Sinatra or Marlon Brando?”

“Frank,” she said.

“Me too.” He was very excited. “You think he’s a good

singer?”

“The best.”

“My mom says Marlon Brando is better.”

“Marlon Brando is good.”

“But he’s not better than Frank Sinatra?”

“Frankie,” said Dinah, “is divine.” But Dinah had always

gone for skinny, serious, temperamental guys, until recently.

They were in the middle days of November, and all the hesitations of early fall, the tentative snowfalls and bewitching spells of balminess, had given way to sudden cold. From under the covers, in the pale green light that came through the curtains, Kenny heard sounds—soft sounds—that froze the blood in hisveins. There was tapping, sawing, tiny running feet on the porch roof outside his window. Rats. He knew it would be hard for a rat to walk up the wall, but in the night anything was possible. Then water, flowing water. Then scratching. Bugs were in the walls.

Big-eyed, hairy, losing their grip. He heard one land, very softly, on the windowsill beside his head and was about to call out when something else, something hard, slapped against a window.

It sounded like Jean Simmons slapping Marlon Brando across the face.

It worked. After that it was quiet.

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