Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories The Sojourner
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John Ferris wakes up in a New York hotel with a feeling of foreboding (like everyone else in this short story collection, right?).
He dresses and goes downstairs, ordering breakfast from a booth by the window in a drugstore.
Ferris has come from Paris to the States to attend his father's funeral in Georgia and spend the week with his mom and brothers. He felt old and still shocked. He would fly out the next morning, back to Paris.
Waiting for his breakfast, Ferris goes through his address book, looking over the names of married friends, dead friends, friends in the mental hospital, and friends with that he's simply lost touch with.
As he closes his address book, he looks at the window to see his ex-wife, Elizabeth, passing by on the street.
He pays his check and hurries toward her, though she makes a light, and he doesn't. He watches her walk and then watches her walk away.
Ferris hasn't seen Elizabeth in eight years, and though it had been difficult at first, he's had romances, including his current girlfriend Jeannine.
He rushes back to the hotel, to have a drink in his room even though it's still early. The whole day is ahead of him, and he finds himself calling Elizabeth.
Elizabeth answers, and after he's repeated his name twice, she seems happy enough to hear from him that she invites him over for an early dinner before she and her husband go to the theatre. He accepts.
Throughout the day, Ferris does his errands, thinking of Jeannine, and how he would tell her about Elizabeth and her husband.
When it's time, Ferris takes a cab uptown and meets Elizabeth's young son at the apartment door. The boy, Billy, welcomes him in.
Elizabeth's husband, Billy Bailey, introduces himself, and says Elizabeth is finishing getting dressed. Ferris remembers the intimacy of watching Elizabeth dressing.
Bill Bailey asks his son to bring a tray of drinks and the two men speak casually and politely. Bill Bailey tells his son that Ferris will be flying across the ocean soon.
Billy says he wants to fly in an airplane and be a journalist like Ferris, but also a doctor, and an atomic scientist, when Elizabeth comes in, carrying her baby daughter and placing her in her husband's lap.
Elizabeth, Ferris sees, is beautiful. She tells him he hasn't changed, and he feels self-conscious about his receding hairline. He feels like an interloper.
She says she's dismayed about his going so soon, but suggests that he'll move back some time and not be an expatriate forever.
Ferris says he doesn't like the word "expatriate," that he's more of a "sojourner."
After a moment, they change the subject, and Ferris explains that his father had died, and Elizabeth, who loved his father, is sad.
Billy is confused by his mother's familiarity with Ferris. Bill Bailey explains how, long ago, the two were married. It seems to totally flummox Billy.
Bailey takes the children to have supper, leaving Elizabeth and Ferris alone. Ferris sees a piano and asks her to play.
Elizabeth plays some Bach, and Ferris is engrossed in the music's beauty… even as Billy is asking after the old marriage, down the hall. The music seems familiar, something Elizabeth used to play.
A maid appears to announce dinner for the grown-ups.
Ferris feels a bit drunk and nostalgic, and sits down to dinner with the Baileys: a big Southern dinner with all of his favorites.
Ferris tells the two about Jeannine, saying that they'd be married soon, even though that's a lie. Still, it makes Elizabeth happy, and this encourages him. He goes on to talk about the great field trips he takes with Jeannine's son to the Tuleries, the great gardens of Paris. This is also a lie.
The maid brings in a cake with candles, and John is confused.
Elizabeth wishes him happy birthday.
He blows out the candles and tells his hosts that they should probably get to the theatre, thanking them for their hospitality.
Ferris hails a cab and returns to the hotel, looking down at the dark city and feeling alone.
The next morning he is in the plane back to Paris, thinking lightly of Elizabeth and the music she played. He tries to remember its melody but instead the fugue, which sounds suddenly ugly.
By midnight, Ferris is in a cab home, feeling out of sorts. He feels as if his life is a mess.
Jeannine's son opens the door and says he's waiting for his mother, who is singing at a nightclub. Inside, Ferris watches him draw a banjo player surrounded with musical notes, and he tells the boy that they'll go to the gardens again soon.
The boy asks if Ferris saw his dead father, but Ferris ignores him, telling him about all the adventures they'll have together, how they'll go to the puppet theatre. The boy tells him the theatre is closed.
Ferris feels mortal dread, and hugs the child tightly.