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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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So Long

By Emile Capouya

The Magpie, January 1941, v. 25, n. 1, p. 32.

He had come up silently behind me, and he startled me with his voice, saying. "Anything for a hungry stranger?"

I looked up quickly and saw that he was smiling, and I pointed, grinning, to the canful of beans near the fire.

"Anything I have is yours."

He went to the other side, of the fire and sat down. leaning his head out of the draught of the smoke. His hair was blond and very long and gave him the look of a prophet. I stared at him till he started to speak.

"Call me Willie. What's yours?"

I told him, and he shook his head in mock disapproval and commiseration.

"Tough on you, I suppose. Mind if I call you Jake?" He nodded toward the beans and asked whether I was going to heat them or have them cold, and when I told him, he said, "No time like the present," and plunked the can into the midst of the hot ashes.

I had only one spoon, and he ate with my fork, politely timing his helpings to mine.

"You're quite the little life saver," he said. "I was counting on sleeping empty before I saw you."

We talked for a while about the heat and the unusual dryness, and he said he was glad of it, because the mosquitoes bothered him very much in damp weather and gave him great swellings on the face.

The twilight began to come and he stretched himself slowly, rising to his feet, and asked me, "You staying here or moving?" I pointed backwards and said I was going into the, higher hills for the night.

We walked together along the dirt road, and he made the time pass quickly, telling me about himself. He stopped very often to investigate tin cans, pieces of paper, anything people had left.

"You find useful things sometimes," he said. "Last week I found a suitcase full of sandwiches and a gallon of beer by the road. Right in the ditch, and I took and carried the stuff along for a while till I got hungry, and then I sat down on the road bank and started eating. Pretty soon a cop on a motorcycle came along, going slow, and I flagged him to a stop. I showed him the sandwiches. "Too much for me," I said. "He took a look around, wheeled his bike off the road, and fell to. He drank a quart, and I left the rest in a ditch. Not my idea of nectar, beer. Never cared for it."

While he talked, he examined an empty cigarette package. He fumed it over aimlessly till the silver glint caught his eye, then he tore it open, took out the tinfoil, and placed it in his hip pocket.

He shared my blanket that night, my breakfast the next morning: we traveled together all the forenoon. After a week alone, I was glad of the chance of company. At about noon I told him I wanted to turn off the road to a nearby post office, explaining ruefully about the postcard I had promised my mother. He grinned indulgently. "I can wait. I'm in no hurry."

The post office was empty, and I waited impatiently for the attendant, passing the time thinking of Willie, glancing at the notices. Then I saw his face looking at me from a placard.

I went out into the sunlight and looked down the road, but the bend hid him from sight. I made a wide circle over fields and farmers' fences, avoiding the way we'd come, and always, as I hurried, I thought of him waiting.

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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