(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Stuart, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who has been undergoing treatment at Millbrook in upstate New York, returns to his favorite bar, Henry’s, in Brooklyn. The place has been renovated; the former owners, Henry and Isabel, have retired; and Arthur is behind the bar. At first, Arthur does not remember Stuart, but eventually he recognizes him, as does Clifton, a former acquaintance who used to supply drugs to Stuart and his friends. All of Stuart’s old friends have moved on: Henry and Isabel have moved out of the city, Ricky has moved to Greenpoint, Rita has reportedly moved to Los Angeles, and nobody has seen Natasha.

Stuart returned to the city a week earlier, after having been away for two years. He did not know why he was returning, or what he was seeking to recover, and felt that he should have stayed away forever, but something drew him back to his old haunts. Living in a cheap room in Times Square, Stuart drifts from bar to bar, street corner to street corner, hoping to run into Natasha. Why Natasha? He had closer friends than Natasha, and she had never answered the letters he had written to her from Millbrook. Stuart was not exactly looking for her either. He merely expects to run into her; he believes that she will simply appear.

Rita, Stuart discovers, did not go to Los Angeles after all. She is in Bellevue Hospital recovering from hepatitis A, probably contracted from a dirty needle she used while taking drugs. She is pencil-thin but probably will survive—this time. Stuart asks her about Natasha, who Rita thinks has been working as a prostitute for a pimp called Uncle Bill, who lives on 125th Street. When Stuart goes to the address, a black child sitting on the railing of the tenement informs him that Uncle Bill is in “the trench,” a pauper’s graveyard. Stuart begins to give up hope of finding Natasha; her image is beginning to fade, and he now doubts that he would recognize her if he did find her. The...

(The entire section is 799 words.)