A Special Providence

A Special Providence by Richard Yates Page B

Book: A Special Providence by Richard Yates Read Free Book Online
Authors: Richard Yates
Tags: General Fiction
though he did catch a glimpse of Sam Rand soberly chewing and talking with some other men. It occurred to him that Sam Rand was the only man in sight he really knew, and that of all the others he knew only three or four by name. Even so, he began to feel a sentimental affection for all of them. Very soon now, all these strangers might well be his friends.
    But he found he could eat only a few mouthfuls without retching, and after he’d thrown away most of his meal he felt the sickness closing in on him again.
    He found a broken slab of concrete to sit down on, and wondered if he dared to light a cigarette. The worst thing about Horbourg now was that it was three miles away: he felt it wouldtake everything he had to walk three miles. The scene around him began to float and blur, and if there had been a place to lay his head he would have fallen instantly asleep.
    “Move over, old buddy,” said John Quint’s voice; and there he came, lugging a machine-gun barrel on his shoulder, slowly strutting out of the crowd with his cold pipe clenched upside down in his teeth. He had apparently forgotten that he and Prentice were not on speaking terms. “You look like I feel,” he said, letting himself carefully down on the slab.
    “It’s funny, you know? I felt—”
    “What the Christ’s the matter with your voice?”
    “I don’t know. Laryngitis or something. But I mean it’s funny, you know? I felt pretty good just before we ate, and now I’m sick as hell again. I guess it comes and goes.”
    “That’s what’s the matter, all right. Same with me. And it’s going to come a whole hell of a lot worse before it goes.”
    It was comforting to have Quint there; it seemed to help things come back into focus. Some men nearby were pointing upward, and Prentice looked up to discover that the rich blue of the sky was intricately marked with white vapor trails. Aerial combat was taking place between fighter planes too high to see except as dots at the head of each trail, like the planes that used to spell out “Pepsi-Cola” high over New York on summer afternoons. But the act of looking up doubled Prentice over in a seizure of coughing that twisted him with pain and left his head hanging between his knees.
    “Prentice, look,” Quint said, and at first Prentice thought he meant look up at the planes; but that wasn’t what he meant. “Look. Let’s quit kidding ourselves. You know what I think? I think we’ve both got pneumonia. Either that or we’re pretty far along in the process of getting it. We’ve got all the damn symptoms.”
    “Well, but how about all these other guys? How come
they
don’t have it? Guys that have been sleeping in the snow for a month in the Bulge?”
    “Oh, balls, Prentice. It’s got nothing to do with that. People get pneumonia in April and May. Babies get it. Athletes in top condition get it. Old ladies get it walking around the dimestore. It’s a disease, that’s all, and when you get a disease you’re supposed to go to the hospital.”
    Prentice thought it over. “You mean you want to go back?”
    “I mean I think we both ought to go to Agate and tell him we’re sick. Tell him we can’t make it, and go back to the aid station. Right now. Doesn’t that sound sensible?”
    And the remarkable thing was that Quint’s face, owlish and bespectacled, heavily fringed with beard, had an expression that Prentice had never seen on it before: a look of defiance clearly mixed with pleading. For the first time in all these months, Quint was asking Prentice for guidance, instead of the other way around.
    It was an oddly dramatic moment – exactly like a moment in the movies when the music stops dead on the soundtrack while the hero makes up his mind – and it didn’t take Prentice long to decide what his answer would be. It didn’t even matter that it had to come out in his absurd falsetto. “No,” he said. “I don’t want to.”
    Quint put his pipe back in his mouth and looked down at his

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