Francis Phelan, a baseball player during the 1900’s, a part-time gravedigger, and a longtime vagrant as the story begins. Francis is fifty-eight years old, almost toothless, and dressed in tatters when he returns to Albany in 1938. Albany is his birthplace, and he has been in self-imposed exile for twenty-two years, after accidentally dropping and killing his infant son, Gerald. While in Albany, Francis is visited by ghosts from his past as he exorcises his guilt for his wasted years.
Helen Archer, Francis’ constant companion on this pilgrimage. Helen is a proud woman who relishes her past as she accompanies Francis on this journey. Nostalgically recalling her Vassar education and singing extempore at the Gilded Cage saloon, Helen remains a devout Catholic and a loyal soulmate to Francis as he relives his past. With a tumor growing within her stomach, Helen yearns for the torch-singing career she abandoned and a normal life with Francis.
Rudy the Kraut
Rudy the Kraut, Francis’ fellow bum and drinking companion. He is described as slightly crazy and perhaps is, convinced as he is that he has cancer. A harmless, simple man, he becomes a victim of a brick clenched in the hand of a marauding legionnaire.
Old Rosskam, a ragman. Rosskam is seventy-one years old and is proud of his sexual prowess. It is on Rosskam’s swing through Francis’ old neighborhood that Francis recalls his earlier years with his parents and with Katrina Daugherty.
Oscar Reo, a bartender at the Gilded Cage. Oscar is an old drinking friend of Francis and a former singer on the radio. He is a compassionate part of Francis’ past and encourages Helen to sing at the lounge and relive her earlier glories as a torch singer.
The Reverend Chester
The Reverend Chester, a Methodist clergyman who operates the Albany...
(The entire section is 817 words.)