Nicky Three

June 19, 1948

Dear Johanna,

Always, dear, I hope you are well. Nicky and I are staying in a house with this curved-off roof that's between two huge elms that stoop over the house like old men. We've been here for a few weeks now, staying with this other guy named Jax Rathburn. He's the son of Nicky's new boss.

Such a job Nicky found! A dollar an hour to stand in front of Mr. Rathburn's club and run errands and flag down taxicabs and stuff handbills into the pockets of passersby. We were nearly at the end of our means and Nicky had gone into the club there to drink off the last of his money. Better to be flat broke than to be damn near it, he said. A fella can't worry once he knows. But, Johanna, he just started talking in there. He got some bourbons in him and started talking like he does, about nothing very much worth talking about, except this time he was talking to someone right.

Or maybe not right anyway but powerful. Cajun Rathburn. And he liked the kind of nothing-talk that Nicky gives, and he gave it back to him. I've seen it since then, them talking that way, saying nothing and using just as many words as it would take to say something, sometimes more. Turns out, Mr. Rathburn owned the club. The next night Nicky went to work.

Nicky's just rife with cash these days, and I'm glad he's still as generous as he was before because work's been hard for me to come by. I can't seem to find any since spring. I get to where I'd take whatever they would give, I'd take twenty cents an hour, but sometimes it seems like I'm not even worth that.

I had some work before at one of the motels, Tuesdays and Thursdays and weekends, picking up the rooms after people stayed in them. It was good work, so steady like that. Not much pay, but anything I found in the rooms less than a dollar was mine–more than that I was supposed to turn in to the crazy Gypsy who hired me. One night I found eighteen dollars. I gave four dollars to the Gypsy dollars and kept the rest, but the Air Force man who left the money came back for it and I got fired. I went out that night with Nicky and we blew all that money.

This morning I took out all the letters I've written to you over these months and I tied them up and put them in order for you. One day I'll send them to you again. I've thought about sending them all at once, even. Oh! Johanna, the look I imagine on your face. I think of it and I can't think of anything else.

Johanna, I'm sorry I left. I'm sorrier for it every day, and I understand why you started sending my letters back to me. I guess it must been too hard for you to get reminded every time one of them arrived, but I want you to know at least that I can't be reminded: I've never forgotten. You're like the memory of a dream I was woken from, one I'll never get back to. I know it was a no good idea to come out here. It wasn't any good to leave the way I did. I'd like to try to get back, but I don't know what I'd be going back to. Nicky says you and me are through by now. He says I should try to get to a sense of recognition over it. A fella can't worry once he knows.

As Always, Me

Letters from Underground