CHAPTER THREE: SMOKE (1/4)

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"What's wrong, Solomon?"

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"What's wrong, Solomon?"

Sol was staring out of the window, watching two young Italian children chasing a paper bag through the windy Thompson street below. His mother's voice pulled him from his trance and turned his gaze towards her. She looked so small in her armchair, and so much older than her forty-nine years. Her appetite had diminished greatly over the past few months and her weight loss was becoming hard to ignore. She wasn't looking at him but at her hands fiddling with the blanket on her lap.

"Nothing's wrong, ma," Sol said. "I'm just tired." When she didn't reply, he knew she hadn't believed him, so he added, "The Waldorf's working me pretty hard."

"You're a young man. Young men are supposed to work hard."

"I thought they wanted a saxophone player, but most of the time they got me washing dishes. They expect me to play for tips."

"The Waldorf's a good hotel, you're lucky to have a job there at all. Your father never earned a dime for his music. He used to say he played for love and worked for—"

"Money. I know, ma."

"I remember a year when he had six jobs. The only time I saw him was when he came home to change clothes, then he was off again, straight out the door. You were only five."

"I remember."

"But I never heard him complain. He just got on with it—for us."

Sol crossed the room and crouched by his mother's side. She didn't look at him, not even when he stared deep into her eyes. He remembered when they had been a vibrant golden hue, like warm honey in the sun. Now they were just dirty pearls of white.

"You're getting thin, ma," he said. "I'm worried about you."

"Solomon Hart, you should know better than to comment on a lady's weight."

"You're wasting away. You barely touched your breakfast. Do you want me to heat you up some soup before I go?"

"I'm not hungry."

"You're never hungry."

"I'm fine!" She was fiddling with her blanket faster, tugging at the loose threads on the frayed edges. Sol took her hand in his and held it tight.

"I have to go now, ma, but I want you to think about what I said before."

"About what?"

"About moving."

"I told you I'm not going anywhere. This is our home!"

"The rent's getting too expensive, ma. We can find a much better place for less money if we're willing to move just a few miles north. Somewhere without stairs so you can go for walks without worrying about—"

"I said I'm not moving! I'm not talking about this anymore. You should go; you're going to be late."

Sol looked at her for a long time, wishing she could only see him and the pain in his heart from watching her wither away. But that would have required a miracle, and he really was running late, so instead he straightened up and kissed the top of her head.

"We'll talk about this later," he said.

She didn't reply.

Sol left.

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