Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Truman Capote, 1958
I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods. For instance, there is a brownstone in the East Seventies where, during the early years of the war, I had my first New York apartment. It was one room crowded with attic furniture, a sofa and fat chairs upholstered in that itchy, particular red velvet that one associates with hot days on a tram. The walls were stucco, and a color rather like tobacco-spit. Everywhere, in the bathroom too, there were prints of Roman ruins freckled brown with age. The single window looked out on a fire escape. Even so, my spirits heightened whenever I felt in my pocket the key to this apartment; with all its gloom, it still was a place of my own, the first, and my books were there, and jars of pencils to sharpen, everything I needed, so I felt, to become the writer I wanted to be.
It never occurred to me in those days to write about Holly Golightly,
and probably it would not now except for a conversation I had with Joe Bell that set the whole memory of her in motion again.
Holly Golightly had been a tenant in the old brownstone; she’d occupied the apartment below mine. As for Joe Bell, he ran a bar around the corner on Lexington Avenue; he still does. Both Holly and I used to go there six, seven times a day, not for a drink, not always, but to make telephone calls: during the war a private telephone was hard to come by. Moreover, Joe Bell was good about taking messages, which in Holly’s case was no small favor, for she had a tremendous many.
Of course this was a long time ago, and until last week I hadn’t seen Joe Bell in several years. Off and on we’d kept in touch, and occasionally I’d stopped by his bar when passing through the neighborhood; but actually we’d never been strong friends except in as much as we were both friends of Holly Golightly. Joe Bell hasn’t an easy nature, he admits it himself, he says it’s because he’s a bachelor and has a sour stomach. Anyone who knows him will tell you he’s a hard man to talk to. Impossible if you don’t share his fixations, of which Holly is one. Some others are: ice hockey, Weimaraner dogs, Our Gal Sunday (a soap serial he has listened to for fifteen years), and Gilbert and Sullivan – he claims to be related to one or the other, I can’t remember which.
And so when, late last Tuesday afternoon, the telephone rang and I heard “Joe Bell here,” I knew it must be about Holly. He didn’t say so, just: “Can you rattle right over here? It’s important,” and there was a croak of excitement in his froggy voice.
I took a taxi in a downpour of October rain, and on my way I even thought she might be there, that I would see Holly again.
But there was no one on the premises except the proprietor. Joe Bell’s is a quiet place compared to most Lexington Avenue bars. It boasts neither neon nor television. Two old mirrors reflect the weather from the streets; and behind the bar, in a niche surrounded by photographs of ice-hockey stars, there is always a large bowl of fresh flowers that Joe Bell himself arranges with matronly care. That is what he was doing when I came in.
“Naturally,” he said, rooting a gladiola deep into the bowl, “naturally I wouldn’t have got you over here if it wasn’t I wanted your opinion. It’s peculiar. A very peculiar thing has happened.”
“You heard from Holly?”
He fingered a leaf, as though uncertain of how to answer.