Well, the next mornin Mrs. Curran come out on the porch with a cup of coffee an a doughnut. The rain had let up a little bit, but the sky was a dark pearly gray an there was thunder growlin off someplace like God was mad.
"I guess you'll want to go out to the cemetery," Mrs. Curran said.
"Yeah, I guess so," I tole her. I didn't really know if I wanted to or not. I mean, somethin was tellin me I oughta, but it was the last place I really wanted to go.
"I've got little Forrest ready," she says. "He ain't been there since… Well, I think it would be a good thing for him to go along. Just to kind of get used to it."
I looked behind her an there he was, standin behind the screen door, lookin sort of sad an puzzled.
"Who are you?" he ast.
"Why, I'm Forrest. You remember when I met you a while back? Up at Savannah."
"You're the one with the funny monkey?"
"Yeah. Sue. But he's not a monkey. He's a purebread orangutang."
"Where is he now? He here?"
"Nope. Not this time," I says. "He got bidness someplace else, I reckon."
"We're gonna go see my mama now," the little boy says, an I like to choked up right then.
"Yeah, I know," I says.
Mrs. Curran, she put us in the car an we drove out to the cemetery. Whole time, I got these horrible butterflies in my stomach. Little Forrest, he just lookin out the winder with big ole sad eyes, an I am wonderin what in hell is gonna happen to us all.
It was a really pretty cemetery, as them things go. Big ole magnolia an oak trees, an we wound around an wound around till we got to a big tree an Mrs. Curran stopped the car. It was a Sunday mornin, an someplace church bells were chimin away. When we got out, little Forrest come up beside me an looked up, an so I took him by the hand an we walked to Jenny's grave. The ground was still wet from the rain, an a lot of leaves had blown down, pretty red an gold ones, shaped just like stars.
"Is that where Mama is?" little Forrest ast.
"Yes it is, darlin," Mrs. Curran says.
"Can I see her?"
"No, but she's there," says Jenny's mama. He was a brave little boy, he was, an didn't cry or nothin, like I would of if I'd been him. An after a few minutes he found hissef a stick to play with an walked off a ways by hissef.
"I just can't believe it," Mrs. Curran said.
"I can't neither," I says. "It ain't right."
"I'll go back to the car now, Forrest. You probably want to be alone for a while."
I just stood there, kind of numb, twistin my hands. Everbody I really cared for seemed to have died or somethin. Bubba an Mama, an now poor Jenny. It had begun to drizzle a little bit now, an Mrs. Curran went an got little Forrest an put him in the car. I started to walk away mysef when I heard a voice say, "Forrest, it's okay."
I turned aroun, but ain't nobody there.
"I said it's okay, Forrest," the voice says again. It was… It couldn't be… It was Jenny!
Cept there still ain't nobody there.
"Jenny!" I says.
"Yes, Forrest. I just wanted you to know everything's gonna be all right."
I must be goin crazy, I figgered! But then alls of a sudden I kind of seen her, just in my mind, I guess, but there she was, as beautiful as always.
"You're gonna have to take little Forrest now," she says, "an raise him up to be strong and smart and good. I know you can do it, Forrest. You've got a very big heart."
"But how?" I ast. "I'm a idiot."
"No you're not!" Jenny says. "You might not be the smartest feller in town, but you've got more sense than most people. You've got a long life ahead of you, Forrest, so make the best you can of it. I've told you that for years."
"I know, but…"
"Anytime you really get stumped, I'll be there for you. Do you understand that?"
"Well, I will. So go on back and get busy and try to figure out what you're gonna do next."
"But, Jenny, I just can't believe it's you."
"Well, it's me all right. Go on, now, Forrest," she says. "Sometimes you act like you ain't got sense enough to get in out of the rain."
So I gone on back to the car, soakin wet.
"Was you talkin to somebody out there?" Mrs. Curran ast.
"Sort of," I said. "I guess I was talkin to mysef."
That afternoon, me an little Forrest sat in Jenny's mama's livin room an watched the New Orleans Saints play the Dallas Cowboys – or whatever it was they did with them. The Cowboys done scored four touchdowns the first quarter, an we ain't scored none. I had tried to call the stadium to explain where I was, but ain't nobody answered the phone in the locker room. I guess by the time I got around to callin, they had all done gone out on the field.
Second quarter it was worse, an by half-time the score was forty-two to nothin, an the sportscasters were all talkin about how I wadn't there an nobody knew where I was. I finally got through to the locker room, an all of a sudden Coach Hurley got on the phone.
"Gump, you idiot!" he hollered. "Where in hell are you!"
I tole him Jenny had died, but he didn't seem to understand.
"Who in hell is Jenny?" he screamed.
It wadn't too easy to explain all this, so I just tole him she was a friend of mine. Then the owner got on the phone.
"Gump, I tole you that if you don't show up for a game, I'm gonna fire your ass myself! And that's what I'm doin. Your ass is fired!"
"But see," I tole him, "it was Jenny. I just found out yesterday…"
"Don't hand me that bullshit, Gump! I know all about you and your so-called agent, Mr. Butterbutt, or whatever his name is. This is just another cheap trick to get more money. An you ain't gonna do it. Don't never come around my football team again. You hear – never!"
"Did you explain it to them?" Mrs. Curran ast, when she came back into the room. "Yeah," I said. "Sort of."
An so that ended my professional football playin days.
Now I had to find some kind of job to help support little Forrest. Jenny had put most of the money I'd sent her into a bank account, an with the other thirty thousan dollars Jenny's mama had sent back to me, there was enough to earn a little interest. But it weren't gonna be enough for everthin, so I knew I had to find me some work.
Next mornin, I looked through the papers at the job ads. Wadn't much goin on. Mostly they wanted secretaries an used car salesmen an such, an I figgered I needed somethin, well, more dignified.
Then I spotted a ad in the column marked "Other."
"Promotional Representative," it says. "No experience necessary! Huge profits for hard workers!" An it give an address for a local motel. "Interviews at 10 A.M. sharp." "Must be able to deal with people" was the final line.
"Mrs. Curran," I says, "what is a 'promotional representative'?"
"I'm not sure, Forrest. I think it's… Well, you know the guy who dresses up like that big peanut outside the peanut store downtown and hands out little samples of nuts to folks? I think it's something like that."
"Oh," I says. Frankly, I was expectin somethin a little higher up on the ladder. But I am thinkin about them "huge profits" the ad talked about. An besides, if it was bein a peanut man or somethin, at least people wouldn't know it was me inside the costume.
As it turned out, it was not the peanut man. It was somethin very very different.
"Knowledge!" says the feller. "Everthin in the world depends on knowledge!"
They was about eight or ten of us done answered the ad for "Promotional Representative." We had arrived at this dinky little motel an was sent into a room that had a bunch of foldin chairs set up an a phone settin on the floor. After about twenty minutes, the door suddenly bust open an in comes this tall, thin, suntanned guy wearin a white suit an white buck shoes. He don't say his name or nothin, just comes marchin into the room an gets in front of us an begun to give us a lecture. His hair is slicked back an greasy, an he has a little pencil mustache.
"Knowledge!" he shouts again. "And here it is!"
He unfolded a big color-poster-size sheet of paper an begun pointin out the various forms of knowledge, which are printed on it. They is pictures of dinosaurs an ships an farm crops an big cities. They is even pictures of outer space an rocket ships, of TVs an radios an cars, an I don't know what-all else.
"This is the opportunity of a lifetime!" he hollers. "To bring all this knowledge into people's homes!"
"Wait a minute," somebody ast. "Does this have anything to do with selling encyclopedias?"
"Certainly not," the man answers, sort of hurt like.
"Well, it looks like it does to me," the feller says. "If it's not selling encyclopedias, what the hell is it?"
"We do not sell encyclopedias!" the man replies. "We place encyclopedias in people's homes."
"Then it is about selling encyclopedias!" the first man shouts.
"With an attitude like that, I don't think you should be here," said the feller. "Leave us now, so the others can be informed."
"Damn right I'll leave," says the first man, walkin out. "I got roped into sellin encyclopedias one time before, an it's a total bunch of bullshit."
"Nevertheless!" hollers the feller in the white suit, "you will be sorry when all these other guys are rich and famous." An he slammed the door so hard the room shook an I was afraid the doorknob might of hit the first man in the asshole.
It took us about a week to go through our "trainin" period. This consisted of havin to learn a long speech, word for word, about how good the encyclopedias we was sellin was. Book of Worldwide Information was what they was called. Our instructor was the feller in the white suit, who was also the regional sales manager for the encyclopedia company. Mister Trusswell was his name, but he told us to just call him Slim.
Like Slim said, we was not goin out there to sell encyclopedias. We was gonna place them in people's homes. Actually, the deal was this: We gave the people the encyclopedias for free, provided that they would sign a contract agreeing to buy a new two-hundrit-and-fifty-dollar annual yearbook ever year for the rest of their lives. In this way the people got their free set of encyclopedias an the company got about ten thousan dollars for sellin the yearbooks, which cost about five dollars apiece to print. I would get fifteen percent of ever contract I made. An Slim got five percent of that. Now, how could anybody lose on a deal like this?
It was on a Monday when we was given our first assignments. We was tole to wear a coat an tie an be sure to get shaved an clean under our fingernails. An there was to be no drinkin on the job, either. We reported to the motel, an there was a big ole flatbed truck waitin for us. Slim herded us on board like cattle, an away we went.
"Now, listen up," Slim says. "Each of you is gonna get dropped off in a neighborhood. What I want you to look for is children's toys – swings, sandboxes, tricycles – that kind of shit. We want to sell these things to young parents! That way, they got longer to have to pay for the annual yearbook! You don't see no children or children's toys outside, don't waste your time!"
So that's what we did. Everbody, me included, got dropped off in some neighborhood. They wadn't very nice neighborhoods, either, but Slim says that's okay, cause people in nice neighborhoods is probly too smart to fall for the kind of scam we is tryin to pull. Anyhow, first house I see with a set of children's swings, I go up an knock on the door. A woman answers an opens the screen door. Immediately I stick my foot in it, like I have been tole to do.
"M'am," I says, "you got a minute?"
"Do I look like I got a minute?" she answers. Her hair is up in curlers an she is wearin a nightgown, an they is all sorts of racket comin from the little kids in the backgroun.
"I want to talk to you about the future of your children," I says, which is part of the rehearsed speech.
"What is your interest in my children?" she asts, sort of suspiciously.
"They are badly in need of knowledge," I answers.
"What are you, one of those religious nuts?" she says.
"No, m'am, I am here to make a free gift to your home of the world's best encyclopedias."
"Encyclopedias! Ha," she says. "Do I look like I can afford to buy encyclopedias?"
I could see her point, but anyhow, I went on with the speech: "M'am, as I have said, I'm not astin you to buy encyclopedias. I am gonna place them in your home."
"What do you mean – loan them to me?"
"Not exactly," I says. "If I could just come in for a minute…"
So she let me in an set me down in the livin room. Slim had done tole us if we got this far, we was almost home free! I opened my kit an begun explainin everthin to her, just like Slim had said to do. The speech was about fifteen minutes long, an she just looked an listened. Three little kids about the age of little Forrest come in an begun crawlin all over her. When I am through, she bust into tears.
"Oh, Mr. Gump," she says. "I wish I could afford them encyclopedias. But I just can't." An then she begun to tell me her sad tale. Her husband done run off with a younger woman an left her without a cent. She lost her job as a diner cook cause she fell asleep from overwork fryin eggs an ruint the griddle. The power company done shut down her electricity, an the phone company is about to do the same. She also got to have a operation but can't afford it, an the kids is hungry half the time. That night the landlord is comin around to collect the fifty-dollar rent an she ain't got it, so she's about to be thowed out of her house. An there is a bunch of other stuff, too, but you get the gist of it.
Anyhow, I done loaned her the fifty bucks an got out of there. Man, she was pitiful.
All that day I done knocked on doors. Most people wouldn't even let me in. About half of them says they have already been taken by other encyclopedia salesmen, an they was the unhappiest ones of all. Four or five slammed the door in my face, an somebody sicced a big ole ugly dog on me. By late that afternoon, when Slim's truck pulled up to haul us off, I was exhausted an discouraged.
"Now, don't none of you worry about this first day," Slim says. "First day's always the hardest. Just think, if any of you had sold just one of them contracts, you would be a thousand dollars richer. It don't take but one, an I guarantee you there is plenty of suckers out there." Then he turns to me.
"Gump," he says, "I been watchin you. You got energy boy! An charm, too. You just need a little practice with an expert! An I am the man to show you. Tomorrow mornin, you are comin along with me!"
That night when I got back to Mrs. Curran's, I didn't even feel like eatin no supper. Here I was, a great "Promotional Representative," fifty bucks poorer an got nothin to show for it but thinner shoe soles an a hole in my pants where the dog got me.
Little Forrest was playin on the livin room floor, an ast me where I been.
"Sellin encyclopedias," I said.
"What kind of encyclopedias?"
An so I showed him. I did just what I was tole to do. I gave my whole speech, openin out the folder with all the pictures an layin down the samples of the encyclopedias an yearbooks. When I was finished, he looked at one of the books an says, "This is a bunch of shit."
"What is that?" I said. "Who taught you to talk that way?"
"Sometimes my mama would say that," he replied.
"Well, it ain't no proper way for a seven-year-ole boy to be talkin," I says. "Besides, why you call my books that?"
"Because it's true," he said. "Look at all this stuff. Half of it's wrong." He points to a part of the encyclopedia that's open. "Look at this," he says, pointin to a drawin that said "1956 Buick." "That's a fifty-five Buick," he says. "The fifty-six didn't have fins like that. And look at this, too," he said. "That's an F-eighty-five fighter plane – not an F-one-hundred!" Little Forrest gone on to point out a bunch of other stuff, too, he said wasn't right.
"Any dummy would know all this is wrong," he says.
Well, almost any dummy, I figgered. I didn't know if he was right or not, but I intended to ask Slim about it next mornin.
"You got to catch em at just the right time," Slim says. "Right after the husband has gone off to work an before they take their kids to school. If you see a yard with toys for little kids who ain't old enough to go to school, save it for later in the day."
We had got off the truck in a neighborhood an was walkin down the street, an Slim was teachin me the tricks of the trade.
"Next best time," he says, "is right after the soap operas is over an before they got to go pick up the kids again, or the husband gets home from work."
"Look," I said, "I need to ast you somethin. Somebody done tole me a lot of the things in the encyclopedia ain't right."
"Yeah, who tole you that?"
"I'd rather not say. Question is, is it true?"
"How the hell would I know?" Slim says. "I don't read that crap. I'm just here to get people to buy it."
"But what about the folks who do?" I says. "I mean, it don't seem fair to be gettin them to pay all that money for stuff that ain't so."
"Who cares?" Slim answers. "Ain't any of them people know the difference – an besides, you don't think they actually use this shit, do you? They get it to put on a shelf, and it probly don't ever get opened up."
Anyhow, Slim pretty soon spotted the house he was gonna make a sale at. It needed some paint an all, but outside there was an old tire hangin from a tree branch by a rope an some small bikes on the porch.
"This is it," Slim said. "I can feel it in my bones. Two kids, just about school age. I bet Mama's in there right now opening her checkbook for me."
Slim knocked on the door, an pretty soon a lady appeared, sort of sad-eyed an tired lookin. Slim went right into his pitch. As he kept on talkin, he just sort of worked his way inside the house, an the next thing the lady knew, the two of us was settin in her livin room.
"But I really don't need any more encyclopedias," she says. "Look I've already bought the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Encyclopedia Americana. We'll be payin on those the next ten years."
"Exactly!" Slim says. "And you won't be using them until then, either! You see, them encyclopedias are for older kids – late high-school and college students. But you gotta have somethin now, while your kids are still young – somethin they can get interested in! And here it is!"
Slim begun handin the lady all his samples, pointin out how many pictures an all were there an how the writin was simplified an much more understandable than them other encyclopedias the lady already had bought. Time he was through, Slim had got the lady to serve us some lemonade, an when we left, Slim walked away with a contract in his hand.
"Now, Gump! See how easy it is! Lookee here, I just made myself a thousand dollars for twenty minutes' work – just like takin candy from a baby!"
In fact, he was correct. Cept I didn't feel exactly right about it. I mean, what was that poor lady gonna do with all them encyclopedia sets? But Slim said she was just the kind of "client" he liked. "They believe all the bullshit you can lay on em," he said. "Most of em are grateful just to have somebody to talk to."
Anyway, he says for me to go on now an start pushin the encyclopedias on my own, an he expects me to have a sale or two by the end of the day – now that he has showed me how to do it.
So that's what I did. But by late that afternoon, I had knocked on two-dozen doors an hadn't even once got ast inside. Four or five times the people wouldn't even open the door – they spoke through the mail slot an tole me to go away. One lady was hoein some crabgrass out of her driveway an when she found out why I was there, she ran me off with the hoe.
I was walkin on back to the truck pickup point when I looked down a street that was different from the ones I had been workin on. This was a nice street, with real pretty houses an gardens an expensive cars in the driveways. An at the very end of the street, up on a little hill, was the biggest house of them all – a mansion, I guess you could call it. I figgered, what the hell. I know Slim has tole us these kinds of folks don't buy encyclopedias, but I got to try somethin, an so I gone on up to the mansion an rang the doorbell. It was the first doorbell I seen all day. First, nothin happened, an I figgered ain't nobody home. I rang two or three more times, an was about to go on my way, when suddenly the door opened. It was a lady standin there, wearin a red silk gown, an carryin a cigarette holder in her hand. She was older than me, but she was still very beautiful, with long wavy brown hair an a lot of makeup. When she saw me, she looked me over two or three times, an then gave a big ole smile. Afore I had a chance to say anythin at all, she opened the door an invited me in.
Mrs. Hopewell was her name, but she says for me to call her Alice.
Mrs. Hopewell – Alice – took me into a great big room with high ceilins an a lot of fancy furniture an ast me if I wanted somethin to drink. I nodded, an she says, "What'll it be then, bourbon, gin, scotch?" But I remembered what Slim had tole us about drinkin on the job, so I tole her a CokeCola would be just fine. When she come back with the CokeCola, I went into my spiel. About halfway through, Mrs. Hopewell says, "Thank you, Forrest. I have heard enough. I'll buy them."
"What?" I ast. I ain't believin my luck.
"The encyclopedias," she says. "I'll take a set."
She ast me how much to write the check for, an I explained about how she ain't really buyin them, just makin a contract to buy the annual yearbook for the rest of her life, but she waved me off. "Just show me where to sign," she said, an that's what I did.
Meantime, I took a swig of the CokeCola. Uggh! It tasted horrible! For a moment I thought she done poured me somethin else besides CokeCola, but in fact she hadn't, account of she done left the can right there on the side table.
"And now, Forrest, I am gonna go slip into somethin more comfortable," Mrs. Hopewell says.
I am thinkin she looks comfortable enough already, but of course, this is none of my bidness.
"Yes'm," I says.
"Just call me Alice," she says, and disappears out of the room with her skirts sashayin behind her.
I set there lookin at the CokeCola an gettin thirstier an thirstier. I really wish I had a RC or somethin. Anyhow, I figger she is gonna be a few minutes, so I gone on back to where the kitchen was. I have never seen such a kitchen as this! I mean, it is bigger than the whole house Jenny growed up in, with tiles an wood an stainless stuff an lights that come out of the ceiling! I looked in the icebox to see if there was another CokeCola, thinkin maybe that one had just gone bad. To my surprise there was about fifty cans of it in there, an so I popped open another one an took a great big swig. Arrrragh! I had to spit it out. It tasted like shit!
Well, actually it didn't taste exactly like shit, whatever shit tastes like. It tasted more like a combination of turpentine an bacon grease, with a little sugar an fizzy-water thowed in. I am thinkin somebody done played a trick on Mrs. Hopewell.
Just about this time, Mrs. Hopewell come through the door. "Ah, Forrest, I see you have found the CokeCola. I didn't know you were that thirsty, you poor boy. Here, let me put that in a glass for you." She had put on a little pink nighty that showed everthin she had, which was considerable, an was wearin little fluffy pink slippers, an I am thinkin that she must be gettin ready for bed.
But now I was really on the spot. She got a fresh glass that sparkled like a rainbow an poured the CokeCola over some ice. I could hear it cracklin in the glass an was wonderin how I was gonna drink it when Mrs. Hopewell says she will be right back, that she is goin to "freshen up." I was about to thow the CokeCola out again, when a idea come to me. Maybe I could make it better. I was rememberin the time back at the University when I wanted a limeade so bad I could just taste it, but there wadn't no limes, an my mama had sent me some peaches an I made a peach-ade by squeezin the peaches through a sock. Bad as it was, I am thinkin that I can salvage somethin out of this CokeCola, account of my tongue is dry as my toe an I might even be dyin of thirst. I could of just got me some water, but by now, I have definitely got CokeCola on my mind.
They was a big ole pantry, an inside it was hundrits of little jars an bottles of all sorts of sizes an shapes. One says cumin, an another says Tabasco, an another says tarragon vinegar. They was jars an bottles an little boxes of other stuff, too. I found some olive oil I figgered might cut the bacon grease taste some, an then a jar of chocolate sauce that might take off some of the turpentine flavor. I mixed up about twenty or thirty different things in a bowl that was settin out on the counter, an when I was finished, I mushed them all together with my fingers an then dipped out a couple of spoonfuls an thowed it into the CokeCola glass. For a moment, the stuff begun to boil an hiss like it was gonna blow up, but the more I stirred it in with the ice, the better it looked, an after a few minutes, it begun to look like CokeCola again.
At this point I was startin to feel like one of them desert gold prospectors that was bakin to death under the sun, an so I lifted the glass an drunk it down. This time, it gone on down pretty good, an while it wadn't exactly CokeCola, it didn't taste like shit, neither. It was so good, in fact, that I poured mysef another glass.
Just then, Mrs. Hopewell returned to the kitchen.
"Ah, Forrest," she says, "how is that CokeCola?"
"It is pretty good," I tole her. "Matter of fact, I'm gonna have some more. You want some?"
"Ah, thank you, but thank you, no, Forrest."
"Why not?" I ast. "Ain't you thirsty?"
"Why, as a matter of fact I am," she says. "But I'd prefer, well, a little libation of a different sort." She went over an poured hersef a glass about half full of gin an then put some orange juice in it.
"You see," she says, "I am always amazed that anybody can drink that crap. My husband, in fact, is the feller that invented it. Somethin they want to call 'New Coke.' "
"Yeah?" I say. "Well, it don't exactly taste like the ole one."
"You're tellin me, buster! I never had anything so wretched in my life. Kinda tastes like – hell, I dunno – turpentine or something."
"Yeah," I says. "I know."
"Some stupid deal his bosses up at the Coke company in Atlanta have dreamed up. 'New Coke' my ass," she says. "They always screwing with something just so's they can figger a new angle to sell it with. Ask me, it's gonna be a bunch of bullshit."
"That so?" I ast.
"Damn right. Matter of fact, you're the first person ever got a whole glass of it down without gagging. You know, my husband's the vice president of CokeCola – in charge of research and development. Some research – some development, if you ask me!"
"Well, it ain't half bad if you put some other stuff in it," I says. "Just fix it up a little."
"No? Well, that's not my problem. Look," she says, "I didn't get you in here to talk about my husband's harebrained schemes. I bought your goddamn encyclopedias, or whatever they are, now I want a favor. I had a masseuse coming over this afternoon and he didn't show. You know how to give a back rub?"
"A back rub – you know, I lie down and you give me a rub. You're so big on books about world knowledge, you gotta know how to rub somebody's back, right? I mean, even an idiot can figure out how to do that."
"Listen, buster," she says, "bring the goddamn CokeCola and come with me."
She took me around to a room that had mirrors on all the walls an a big old raised bed in the middle of it. Music was playin through speakers in the ceilin, an they was a big ole Chinese gong settin there by the bed.
Mrs. Hopewell got up on the bed an thowed off her little slippers an nighty an put a big towel over her bottom half, an she was laid down on her stomach. I tried not to look at her while this was goin on, but account of the whole room was mirrors, this was not very easy to do.
"Okay," she says, "start rubbing."
I got sort of aside of her an begun to rub her shoulders. She begun to make little oh-ah sounds. The more I rubbed, the louder they got. "Lower. Lower!" Mrs. Hopewell says. I gone on an rubbed lower, an the more I did, the lower I got! It was beginnin to get awkward for sure. In fact, I was now at the top of the towel. Finally she begun to pant an then she reaches over an hits the Chinese gong! It made the room shake an the mirrors seem like they gonna fall off the walls.
"Take me, Forrest," she moans.
"Where you want to go?" I ast.
"Just take me!" she screams. "Now!"
At this point I suddenly begun to think about Jenny an about a bunch of other things, an Mrs. Hopewell was grappin at me an writhin an pantin on the bed, an this shit seemed about to get out of hand when, without no warnin, the door to the mirror room bust open an they is a little man standin there wearin a suit an tie an steel-rimmed glasses, kinda look like a Nazi German.
"Alice," he shouts, "I think I have got it figured out! If we put some steel-wool shavings into the formula, it will make it quit tasting like turpentine!"
"Jesus God, Alfred!" Mrs. Hopewell hollers. "What are you doing home this time of day!" She done bolted upright an was tryin to pull the towel up around hersef to look decent.
"My researchers," the feller says, "have found the solution!"
"Solution! Solution to what?" Mrs. Hopewell asts.
"The 'New Coke,' " he says. The feller strides into the room, actin like I'm not even there. "I think we got a way to get people to drink it."
"Oh, for godssake, Alfred. Who would want to drink that crap anyhow?" Mrs. Hopewell looks like she's about to burst into tears. She ain't got but that one towel, an she is tryin to cover hersef up, bottom an top, with it. Ain't workin too good, an so she is grappin for her nighty, which is on the floor, but ever time she graps for it, the towel falls off. I am tryin to look away again, but the mirrors won't give me no other view.
About this time, Alfred, I guess was his name, noticed me.
"Are you the masseuse?" he ast.
"Sort of," I says.
"That your CokeCola?"
"You're drinking it?"
I nodded. I didn't exactly know what to say, account of it is his new invention.
"And it don't taste awful?" His eyes got big as biscuits.
"Not now," I says. "I fixed it."
"Fixed it? How?"
"I put some stuff in it from the kitchen."
"Let me see that," he says. He took the glass an helt it up to the light an examined it, sort of like a person will examine somethin nasty in a laboratory jar. Then he drunk a little sip of it an got a kind of squinty look in his eyes. He look at me, then at Mrs. Hopewell, then he slugged down a big ole swallow.
"My God!" he says. "This shit ain't half bad!"
He drunk some more an get a real amazed look on his face, like he was seein a vision or somethin.
"You fixed this!" he shouts. "How in hell did you fix it?"
"I done put a few things from that pantry in it," I says.
"You! The masseuse?"
"He's not exactly a masseuse," Mrs. Hopewell says.
"He's not? Then what is he?"
"I'm a encyclopedia salesman," I says.
"Encyclopedias – Huh?" Alfred says. "Then what are you doing here? With my wife?"
"It is kind of a long story," I tole him.
"Well, it doesn't matter," he says. "We'll get to that later. What I want to know now is what in hell did you do to this CokeCola? Tell me! My God, tell me!"
"I dunno, exactly," I says. "It was like, well, it didn't taste so good at first, an I thought it could have stood some doctorin up, you know?"
"Didn't taste good! Why, you moron, it tasted like shit! Don't you think I know that? And you have made it at least drinkable! Do you have any idea what something like this is worth? Millions! Billions! C'mon now, try to remember. What was it, er – What's your name, anyhow?"
"Gump," I says. "Forrest Gump."
"Yes, Gump – well, c'mon now, Gump – let's go real slow through exactly what you did to this stuff. Show me what you put in it."
So that's what I did, except I couldn't remember everthin. I got out some of the little bottles an jars an stuff an tried to do it again, but I never could seem to get it quite right again. We tried an tried again, maybe fifty times, until it was way past midnight, but each time ole Alfred spit the stuff out in the sink an says it ain't like the first batch. Meantime, Mrs. Hopewell is about on her twentieth gin an orange juice.
"You fools," she says once. "There ain't no way to make that crap any good. Why don't we all go lay down in the bed an see what happens?"
"Shut up, Alice," Alfred says. "Don't you see this is the opportunity of a lifetime!"
"Opportunity of a lifetime is what I just suggested," says Mrs. Hopewell, an she goes back out in the mirror room an starts beatin on the gong. Finally, Alfred leans up against the icebox an puts his head in his hands.
"Gump," he says, "this is incredible. You have snatched me from the jaws of defeat, only to throw me back again. But I'm not finished yet. I am gonna call the police to seal this kitchen off. And tomorrow, we are gonna get an entire staff down here to pack up every conceivable thing you might have put in this stuff and ship it all back to Atlanta."
"Atlanta?" I ast.
"You bet your sweet ass, Gump. And the most prized item of all is going to be yourself!"
"Me?" I ast.
"Goddamn right, Gump. Your big ass is coming along to our lab in Atlanta to put this thing together right. Just think of it, Gump. Today Atlanta! Tomorrow the world!"
Mrs. Hopewell's face is smilin from the winder as I leave, an upon considerin all this, I have a feelin that trouble lies ahead.