Excerpted from The Pawnbroker: A Novel by Edward Lewis Wallant.
His feet crunched on the hard-packed sand. On his left was the Harlem River, across the street to the right was the Community Center, and beyond was the vast, packed city. At seven thirty in the morning it was quiet for New York. In that relative silence, his footsteps made ponderous, dragging sounds that were louder and more immediate in his own ears than the chugging of the various river boats or the wakening noise of traffic a few blocks away on 125th Street.
Crunch, crunch, crunch.
It could almost have been the pleasant sound of someone walking over clean white snow. But the sight of the great, bulky figure, with its puffy face, its heedless dark eyes distorted behind the thick lenses of strangely old-fashioned glasses, dispelled any thought of pleasure.
Cecil Mapp, a small, skinny Negro, sat nursing a monumental hangover on the wooden curbing that edged the river. He gazed blearily at Sol Nazerman the Pawnbroker and thought the heavy, trudging man resembled some kind of metal conveyance. Look like a tank or like that, he thought. The sight of the big white man lifted Cecil’s spirit perceptibly; the awkward caution of his walk indicated misery on a different scale from his own. For a few minutes he forgot about his furious wife, whom he would have to face that night, forgot even the anticipated misery of a whole day’s work plastering walls with shaky, unwilling hands. He was actually moved to smile as Sol Nazerman approached, and he thought gaily, That man suffer!
He waved his hand and raised his eyebrows like someone greeting a friend at a party.
“Hiya there, Mr. Nazerman. Look like it goin’ to be a real nice day, don’t it?”
“It is a day,” Sol allowed indifferently, with a slight, side-wise movement of his head.
As he plodded along, Sol watched the quiet flow of the water. Ironically, he noted the river’s deceptive beauty. Despite its oil-green opacity and the indecipherable things floating on its filthy surface, somehow its insistent direction made it impressive.
He narrowed his eyes at the August morning: the tarnished gold light on receding bridges, the multi-shaped industrial buildings, and all the random gleams that bordered the river and made the view somehow reminiscent of a great and ancient European city.
Oh yes, yes, a nice, peaceful summer day; quiet, safe, full of people going about their business in the rich, promising heat. A dozing morning in a gNo fear that he could be taken in by it; he had the battered memento of his body and his brain to protect him from illusion.
Suddenly he had the sensation of being clubbed. An image was stamped behind his eyes like a bolt of pain. For an instant he moved blindly in the rosy morning, seeing a floodlit night filled with screaming. A groan escaped him, and he stretched his eyes wide. There was only the massed detail of a thousand buildings in quiet sunlight. In a minute he hardly remembered the hellish vision and sighed at just the recollection of a brief ache, his glass-covered eyes as bland and aloof as before. Another minute and he was allowing himself the usual shallow speculation on his surroundings.
From The Pawnbroker: A Novel by Edward Lewis Wallant. Reprinted with permission from Fig Tree Books, LLC.