In 1975, in the summer with the windows open at the Times Square Hotel, people had very few secrets. About 4 o’clock one morning a girl began to scream, No, please! Don’t do that! Get a prostitute if you want to do that! Here, take back your money! Just let me go! After pleading a half-minute more, a door slammed and she ran down the hallway. Shouting and sobbing, she knocked on the door next to mine. “Somebody,” she begged, “open the door please! I don’t want to get killed out here!”
I looked through the peephole. She continued to cry and knocked on more doors. No one opened a door for her. So I opened my door and she ran into my room. I called downstairs for the security guard. She cowered on the end of my bed and started to smoke with all the affected gestures of a high-school nicotine addict. I was surprised to see that she looked a lot like me, except she was a few years younger. She was white, blond, blue-eyed and dressed casually in light blue jeans and a white blouse. Someone else had called because the security guards arrived while I was on the phone. The security men arrived and she lunged at my door.
When she went into the hall, I closed my door on all of them. A few minutes later, one of the people in the hotel who “helps out” knocked on my door. While I fumbled with my bathrobe, he was becoming very angry.
“Put a master key on this door!”
“Just a minute,” I said angrily, opening the door. The security guard was behind him.
“What’s that girl’s name?” he asked. “Do you know who she is?”
“No,” I answered. “I only let her into my room. I never saw her before.”
He looked at me suspiciously. “Well, she came out of your room.”
“Yes, but I don’t know her. I’m sorry.”
He stood there a moment distrustfully. I heard the security guard say, “She’s not a madam.” Then they went away.
Several weeks later, the elderly woman who lives across the hall met me by the elevators in the lobby. We said hello and she leaned over to me and asked, “Are you in some kind of trouble, dear?”
“No,” I answered, wondering why she thought I was.
“Are you sure?”
“I heard all that noise in the hall the other night. That young woman was in some kind of trouble. I thought it was you.”
“Oh no.” I laughed. “That wasn’t me.”
Upstairs, she invited me to her room, where she confided, “I heard her knocking on my door and I wasn’t going to let her in.” She looked frightened then, as if she had to appeal to my understanding. “I have to value my life too. But I thought it was you. I would be afraid to let you in if you were in trouble.”
I looked around at her room, at the pictures of Jesus and the cross on the table next to her bed and I realized that this episode had been upsetting to her because she knew she could not help someone in trouble, and that for last several weeks she thought it had been me she left out in the hall.
She told me I could visit her anytime. “Don’t be strangers.”
Her name was Mary H. “My husband was an Irishman, a cop,” she said, “and a gambler. He died in a poker fight.” He died at forty and left no will.
“Do you have any family?”
“I had a daughter. She was sweet, just like you. She died of leukemia when she was 21. My other daughter, she’s no good, she never comes to see me.”
“Why are you living here?”
“I had a nice home once, in Chelsea,” she said. Chelsea was the neighborhood below 34th Street on the west side. “I lost the house, all my furniture stored away and then I couldn’t pay and it was all gone.”
Every day she made one trip, to the Blarney Stone. She got food there and on the way bought the Daily News. Several times she asked me when she was not feeling well or the weather was bad to make the trip for her. I did, and brought back sandwiches which she tried to share with me. One time I noticed a small container of milk leaking on her dresser and cleaned it up.
I thought she would not want me to stay and started to leave. She said, “Don’t go, I’ll miss you. Who else can I talk to?”
I sat and talked with her a short while but I was always restless, ready to get out into the city, ready I thought for anything.
When I left, I said goodbye. Never say goodbye, she said.