Paul hated school. He did not do his homework.
He did not like his teachers. Paul's father did not know what to do with him.
His teachers did not know either. One afternoon, all his teachers at Pittsburgh
high school met together with him to discuss his case. Paul was late. When he
entered the room his teachers sat waiting for him.
He was tall for his age and very thin. His clothes were
too small for him, but they were clean. He had a bright red flower in the button
hole of his black jacket. One of the teachers asked paul why he had come to the
meeting. Paul said politely that he wanted to do better in school. This was a
lie. Paul often lied. His teachers began to speak. They had many complaints. One
said Paul talked to the other students instead of paying attention to the
lessons. Another said Paul always sat in class with his hands covering his eyes.
A third teacher said Paul looked out the window instead of looking at her. His
teachers attacked him without mercy.
Paul's eyesbrows moved up and down as his teachers spoke.
His smile never left his face, but his fingers shook as he touched the flower on
his coat. At last the meeting was over. Paul's smile got even wider. He bowed
gracefully and left the room.
His teachers were angry and confused. The art teacher
spoke for all of them when he said there was something about paul that he didn't
understand. "I don't think he really means to be bad," he said. "There's just
something wrong with that boy." Then the art teacher remembered one warm
afternoon when Paul had fallen asleep in his class. Paul's face was white with
thin blue veins under the skin. The boy's face looked tired and lined, like an
old man's. His eyebrows moved up and down, even in his sleep.
After he left the meeting, Paul ran down the hill from the
school whistling. He was late for his job at the concert hall. Paul was an usher
there. He showed people to their seats. He carried messages for them. He brought
them their programs with a polite bow. Everyone thought he was a charming boy
and the best usher at the hall.
When Paul reached the concert hall that evening, he went
immediately to the dressing room. About six boys were already there. Paul began
changing his clothes with excited hands. He loved his green uniform with the
gold pockets and design.
Paul rushed into the concert hall as soon as he had
changed clothes. He ran up and down the hall, helping people. He became more and
more excited. His face became pink and his eyes seemed larger and very bright.
He looked almost handsome. At last everyone was seated. The orchestra began to
play and Paul sat down with a sign of relief.
The music seemed to free something in Paul's spirit. Then
a woman came out and began to sing. She had a rich, strong soprano voice. Paul
felt truly happy for the first time that day.
At the end of the concert Paul went back to the dressing
room. After he had changed his clothes again he went outside the concert hall.
He decided to wait for the singer to come out. While he waited he looked across
the street to the large hotel called "The Schenley." All the important people
stayed at The Schenley when they visited Pittsburgh. Paul had never been inside
it, but he used to stand near the hotel's wide glass doors. He liked to watch
the people enter and leave. He believed if he could only enter this kind of a
hotel, he would be able to leave school, his teachers, and his ordinary, gray
life behind him... forever.
At last the singer came out of the concert hall. Paul
followed her as she walked to the hotel. He was part of a large crowd of
admirers who had waited to see her. When they all reached the hotel, she turned
and waved. Then the doors opened and she disappeared inside. Paul stared into
the hotel as the doors slowly closed. He could feel the warm, sweet air inside.
And for a moment, he felt part of a golden world of sparkling lights and marble
floors. He thought about the mysterious dishes of food being served in the
hotel's dining room. He thought about green bottles of wine growing cold in
silver buckets of ice.
He turned away from the hotel and walked home. He thought
of his room with its horrible yellow wallpaper, the old bed with its ugly red
cover. He shook his head.
Soon he was walking down the street where he lived. All
the houses on Cordelia Street were exactly alike. Middle class businessmen had
bought them for their families. All their children went to school and to church.
They loved arithmetic. As Paul walked toward his house he felt as if he were
drowning in ugliness. He longed for cool colors and soft lights and fresh
flowers. He didn't want to see his ugly bedroom or the cold bathroom with its
cracked mirror and gray floor.
Paul went around to the back of his father's house. He
found an open window and climbed into the kitchen. Then he went downstairs to
the basement. He was afraid of rats. But he did not want to face his own
bedroom. Paul couldn't sleep. He sat on the floor and stared into the darkness
until morning came.
The following Sunday Paul had to go to church with his
family. Afterwards, everyone came home and ate a big dinner. Then all the people
who lived on Cordelia Street came outside to visit each other.
After supper Paul asked his father if he could visit a
friend to get some help with his arithmetic. Paul left the house with his school
books under his arm. But he didn't go to his friend's house. Instead he went to
see Charley Edwards. Charley was a young actor. Paul liked to spend as much time
as he could at the theater where Charley Edwards and his group acted in their
It was only at the theater and the concert hall that Paul
felt really alive. The moment he smelled the air of these places he felt like a
prisoner suddenly set free. As soon as he heard the concert hall orchestra play
he forgot all the ugly, unpleasant events in his own life.
Paul had discovered that any kind of music awakened his
Paul didn't want to become a musician, however. He didn't
want to become an actor, either. He only wanted to be near people who were
actors and musicians. He wanted to see the kind of life these artists led.
Paul found a schoolroom even worse after a night at the
theater or the concert hall. He hated the school's bare floors and cracked
walls. He turned away from his dull teachers in their plain clothes. He tried to
show them how little he thought of them and the studies they taught.
He would bring photographs of all the actors he knew to
school. He would tell the other students that he spent his evenings with these
people at elegant restaurants. Then he would announce that he was going away to
Europe or to California, or to Egypt for a while. The next day he would come to
school smiling nervously. His sister was ill, he would say. But he was still
planning to make his trip next spring.
Paul's problems at school became worse. Even after the
meeting with his teachers, things did not get better. He told them he had no
time to study grammar and arithmetic. He told them he had to help the actors in
the theater. They were old friends of his.
Finally, his teachers went to Paul's father. He took Paul
out of school and made him get a job. He told the manager at the concert hall
that Paul could not work there anymore. His father warned the doorman at the
theater not to let Paul into the place. And Charley Edwards promised Paul's
father not to see Paul again.
All the actors at the theater laughed when they heard
about the stories Paul had been telling. The women thought it was funny that
Paul had told people he took them out to nice restaurants and sent them flowers.
They agreed with the teachers and with his father that Paul's was a bad case.
Paul was a student with a lot of problems. He
hated school. He didn't like living with his family on Cordelia Street in the
industrial city of Pittsburgh.
Paul wanted to be surrounded by beautiful things. He loved
his part-time job as an usher at the concert hall. He helped people find their
seats before the concert. Then he could listen to the music and dream of
Paul also spent a lot of time at the local theater. He
knew many of the actors who worked there. He used to do little jobs for them.
And they would let him see plays for free.
Paul had little time left for his studies. So he was
always in trouble with his teachers. Finally, Paul's teachers complained again
to his father. His father took him out of school and made him take a job in a
large company. He would not let Paul go near the concert hall or the theater.
Paul did not like his job as a messenger boy. He began to
plan his escape.
A few weeks later, Paul's boss, Mr. Denny, gave Paul a
large amount of money to take to the bank. He told Paul to hurry because it was
Friday afternoon. He said the bank would close soon and would not open again
until Monday. At the bank, Paul took the money out of his pocket. It was five
thousand dollars. Paul put the money back in his coat pocket. And he walked out
of the bank.
He went to the train station and bought a one way ticket
for New York City. That afternoon Paul left Pittsburgh forever.
The train traveled slowly through a January snowstorm. The
slow movement made Paul fall asleep. The train whistle blew just as the sun was
coming up. Paul awoke, feeling dirty and uncomfortable. He quickly touched his
coat pocket. The money was still there. It was not a dream. He really was on his
way to New York City with five thousand dollars in his pocket.
Finally the train pulled into Central Station. Paul walked
quickly out of the station and went immediately to an expensive clothing store
The salesman was very polite when he saw Paul's money.
Paul bought two suits, several white silk shirts, some silk ties of different
colors. Then he bought a black tuxedo suit for the theater, a warm winter coat,
a red bathrobe, and the finest silk underclothes. He told the salesman he wanted
to wear one of the new suits and the coat immediately. The salesman bowed and
Paul then took a taxi to another shop where he bought
several pairs of leather shoes and boots. Next, he went to the famous jewelry
store, Tiffany's, and bought a tie pin and some brushes with silver handles. His
last stop was a luggage store where he had all his new clothes put into several
It was a little before one o'clock in the afternoon when
Paul arrived at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. The doormen opened the hotel's glass
doors for Paul and the boy entered. The thick carpet under his feet had the
colors of a thousand jewels. The lights sparkled from crystal chandeliers.
Paul told the hotel clerk he was from Washington, D.C. He
said his mother and father were arriving in a few days from Europe. He explained
he was going to wait for them at the hotel.
In his dreams Paul had planned this trip to New York a
hundred times. He knew all about the Waldorf-Astoria, one of New York's most
expensive hotel's. As soon as he entered his rooms, he saw that everything was
perfect--except for one thing. He rang the bell and asked for fresh flowers to
be sent quickly to his rooms.
When the flowers came, Paul put them in water and then he
took a long, hot bath. He came out the bathroom, wearing the red silk bathrobe.
Outside his windows, the snow was falling so fast that he could not see across
the street. But inside, the air was warm and sweet. He lay down on the sofa in
his sitting room.
It had all been so very simple, he thought. When they had
shut him out of the theater and the concert hall, Paul knew he had to leave. But
he was surprised that he had not been afraid to go. He could not remember a time
when he had not been afraid of something. Even when he was a little boy. But now
he felt free. He wasn't afraid anymore. He watched the snow until he fell
It was four o'clock in the afternoon when Paul woke up. He
spent nearly an hour getting dressed. He looked at himself often in the mirror.
His dark blue suit fit him so well that he did not seem too thin. The white silk
shirt and the blue and lilac tie felt cool and smooth under his fingers. He was
exactly the kind of boy he had always wanted to be.
Paul put on his new winter coat and went downstairs. He
got into a taxi and told the driver to take him for a ride along Fifth Avenue.
Paul stared at the expensive stores.
As the taxi stopped for a red light Paul noticed a flower
shop. Through the window, he could see all kinds of flowers. Paul thought the
violets, roses, and lilies-of-the valley looked even more lovely because they
were blooming in the middle of winter.
Paul began to feel hungry so he asked the taxi driver to
take him back to the hotel. As he entered the dining room, the music of the
hotel orchestra floated up to greet him. He sat at a table near a window. The
fresh flowers, the white tablecloth, and the colored wine glasses pleased Paul's
eyes. The soft music, the low voices of the people around him and the soft
popping of champagne corks whispered into Paul's ears.
This is what everyone wants, he thought. He could not
believed he had ever lived in Pittsburgh on Cordelia Street! That belonged to
another time and place. Paul lifted the crystal glass of champagne and drank the
cold, prescious, bubbling wine. He belonged here.
Later that evening, Paul put on his black tuxedo and went
to the opera. He felt perfectly at ease. He had only to look at his tuxedo to
know he belonged with all the other beautiful people in the opera house. He
didn't talk to anyone. But his eyes recorded everything.
Paul's golden days went by without a shadow. He made each
one as perfect as he could. On the eighth day after his arrival in New York, he
found a report in the newspaper about his crime. It said that his father had
paid the company the five thousand dollars that Paul had stolen. It said Paul
had been seen in a New York hotel. And it said Paul's father was in New York. He
was looking for Paul to bring him back to Pittsburgh.
Paul's knees became weak. He sat down in a chair and put
his head in his hands. The dream was ended. He had to go back to Cordelia
Street. Back to the yellow-papered bedroom, the smell of cooked cabbage, the
daily ride to work on the crowded street cars.
Paul poured himself a glass of champagne and drank it
quickly. He poured another glass and drank that one, too.
Paul had a taxi take him out of the city and into the
country. The taxi left him near some railroad tracks. Paul suddenly remembered
all the flowers he had seen in a shop window his first night in New York. He
realized that by now every one of those flowers was dead. They had had only one
splendid moment to challenge winter.
A train whistle broke into Paul's thoughts. He watched as
the train grew bigger and bigger. As it came closer, Paul's body shook. His lips
wore a frightened smile. Paul looked nervously around as if someone might be
When the right moment came, Paul jumped. And as he jumped,
he realized his great mistake. The blue of the ocean and the yellow of the
desert flashed through his brain. He had not seen them yet! There was so much he
had not seen!
Paul felt something hit his chest. He felt his body fly
through the air far and fast. Then everything turned black and Paul dropped back
into the great design of things.