Asa Leventhal, who works as an editor of a trade paper. He finds his life turned upside down in a matter of days. While Asa’s wife, Mary, is out of town visiting relatives, Asa receives a call from his brother’s wife, Elena, who is also alone. Her husband, Max, has gone to Texas for a better job. Elena’s son Mickey is sick, and she asks Asa for help. Over the next few days, Mickey grows worse and dies. At the same time, Asa meets a seedy alcoholic, Kirby Allbee, who blames his downfall on Asa. Years before, using Kirby as a reference, Asa had a job interview with Kirby’s employer, Mr. Rudiger. During the interview, Asa had argued rudely with Rudiger. Shortly afterward, Kirby was fired, and he thinks that Asa’s outburst with his boss started his problems, which also include the death of his wife in an accident. Asa is at first irritated with Kirby’s constant appearances and requests for help, but he is gradually overwhelmed by a growing sense of responsibility for Kirby. When Kirby is thrown out of his rooming house, Asa takes him in. Kirby wants to reverse his fate by the same device that caused it; he asks Asa to introduce him to an acquaintance in the hope of landing a job. Asa catches Kirby in his bed with a woman and throws him out, but Kirby sneaks back in and tries to gas himself while Asa is sleeping. Gradually, Asa becomes crushed by the weight of his guilt—guilt over what he did or Kirby imagines he did, guilt...
(The entire section is 522 words.)