After most everybody else had left the gym, our group straggles down out of the bleachers. Lucille walks over to Milvey and invites him to the Blue Moon Dance Hall. We had it rented for two hours. The wives brought meat loaf, polish sausage, potato salad, coleslaw, and pork and beans. The men had chipped in for two half barrels of beer, one lager, one dark. We told Milvey how sorry we were, then we sort of just mingled around, bumping into each other, not really knowing what else to say.
Finally, our good friend lifts his head off the keyboard. It was a sight I’ll not likely ever forget. Milvey’s got these white polka dots on his face from the keys. The dots are threaded through with tears. “Go to the Moon,” Milvey sobs. “Enjoy and … and God bless!” His head bounces back to the keyboard with a heartbreaking clatter.
I can tell you for a fact, the party at the Blue Moon wasn’t the same without him. We had all we could manage knocking off both kegs. The food we didn’t eat we divided up and took home. Nobody did much dancing.
The next day a few of us are hanging out down at Gruber’s, waiting for our good friend Chester Milvey to come wandering up the road back into town, except he never did.
“He were a loser,” Nat finally says.
“Naahhh, he weren’t no loser,” Willie Stone says right back.
“A quitter then,” Nat says, working hard to put some distance between himself and his star pupil. “He were a quitter.”
“Weren’t no quitter neither,” Willie says.
“What the heck were he then?” Nat asks.
Willie thinks a moment and then he says, “Milvey just weren’t no strong ender is all.” Nat nods, but he looks befuddled.
What put the icing on the cake was Mattie blurting out: “I don’t give a hoot what nobody says! To my mind the poor man put typing ahead of most else in his life. And it weren’t no right thing to do, else the good Lord woulda let him win!”
Minutes later nobody’s left at Gruber’s except Gruber, Lucille and me, and Gruber’s looking like he wants out. Mattie had given us all some hard thinking to do. Truth to tell, most likely there wasn’t a one of us not putting something ahead of something else that ought to come first.
The Quik-Buy’s an office building now. Walter Walinski is semiretired and runs the elevator there. McPeter’s liver quit on him. Poor Chet Winslow hung himself from a beam inside the barn he’d lost to the bank. Mattie bought out Gruber’s dad, who went blind and died. Nathan Margolias resides in the Dubuque County Jail, courtesy of the IRS. Alice Winslow married Orange “Bill” Johnson, of all people. Willie Stone took over from Stanley Owens running the desk at the Y.
Stanley rents a room across the hall from the room where Milvey used to live. On his good days when he’s not under the weather Stanley’s more than willing, for a little pocket change, to cover expenses, to tell the story of Chester Milvey’s life.
Milvey’s room is roped off. Milvey’s typewriter is there, along with his desk lamp and the bed where he’d fall exhausted after typing class and a 56-hour workweek at the Quik-Buy. The walls are still lined with sheets to deaden the sound. Course they’ve yellowed some and started to shred. On his desk is a torn sheet of paper Stanley tells folks came from Milvey’s second loss, the half he didn’t get to eat.
After Lucille passed away, I took myself a dog for company. Mind you, it’s not the same, but it beats tar out of living alone.
Most nights, weather permitting, after we do our business, Lucy and I drop by the Y to chew the fat with Willie Stone. Often as not our talk drifts back to Milvey. How, no matter what was going on in his life, Milvey wore a smile that made you feel that he just couldn’t wait to ring you up.
Here you got this good soul who struggles so hard to do this one thing he gets near perfect. Then right on the brink of success he does himself in. Not once, but twice, and for all anyone knew, maybe even more than that.