They neither liked nor disliked the Old Man. To them he could have been the broken bell in the church tower which rang before and after Mass, and at noon, and at six each evening -- its tone, repetitive, monotonous, never breaking the boredom of the streets. The Old Man was unimportant.
Yet if he were not there, they would have missed him, as they would have missed the sounds of bees buzzing against the screen door in early June; or the smell of thick tomato paste -- the ripe smell that was both sweet and sour -- rising up from aluminum trays wrapped in fly dotted cheesecloth. Or the surging whirling sounds of bats at night, when their black bodies dived into the blackness above and below the amber street lights. Or the bay of female dogs in heat.
They never called him by name, although he had one. Filippo Rossi, that's what he was called in the old country; but here he was just Signore or the Old Man. But this was not unusual, because youth in these quarters was always pushed at a distance from its elders. Youth obeyed when commanded. It went to church on Sunday and one Saturday a month went to confession. But youth asked nothing of its parents -- not a touch of the hand or a kiss given in passing.
The only thing unusual about the Old Man had long since happened. But the past was dead here as the present was dead. Once the Old Man had had a wife. And once she, too, ignored him. With a tiny fur-piece wrapped around her shoulders, she wiggled her satin covered buttocks down the street before him and didn't stop. In one hand she clutched a hundred dollar bill and in the other a straw suitcase. The way she strutted down the street, the Old Man would have been blind not to have noticed both. Without looking at him, without looking at anything except Drexel Street directly in front of her, she climbed up into one of those orange streetcars, rode away in it, and never came back.