The Beautiful Room is Empty by Edmund White:
In the sweaty Chicago night we’d squat bare-chested inside the holds of semis, stacking cartons. Our sweating hands and arms would leave phantom brown prints on the tan cardboard boxes. My partner, a beer-bellied man whose five-o’clock shadow had deepened to midnight by dawn, never spoke to me; I could imagine marrying him, living in a trailer with him, and cooking him meatloaf. On the third night we worked together he finally opened up. He told me that when he was a teenager his father, a young doctor, had died suddenly of a heart attack. No insurance. My partner had been the oldest boy and had gone to work to support his mother and to send the three younger kids through college. “But I got stuck. Now they’re all in professions with nice homes in the suburbs and they’re ashamed of me, don’t like me coming around. So I’m stuck in this shit job.”
We talked about books. He liked Stefan Zweig and Nelson Algren. And he liked Beethoven, especially the symphonies. When he talked about books and music, his flat Midwestern voice (he pronounced milk as “melk” and wash as “warsh”) warmed up, almost as though through the smoked window of his face I could see a young man approach, smile, then go away.
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