THE MIRACLE MAN
He was a misshapen thing, bulking a black blotch in the night at the entrance of the dark alleyway—like some lurking creature in its lair. He neither stood, nor kneeled, nor sat—no single word would describe his posture—he combined all three in a sort of repulsive, formless heap.
The Flopper moved. He came out from the alleyway onto the pavement, into the lurid lights of the Bowery, flopping along knee to toe on one leg, dragging the other leg behind him—and the leg he dragged was limp and wobbled from the knee. One hand sought the pavement to balance himself and aid in locomotion; the other arm, the right, was twisted out from his body in the shape of an inverted V, the palm of his hand, with half curled, contorted fingers, almost touching his chin, as his head sagged at a stiff, set angle into his right shoulder. Hair straggled from the brim of a nondescript felt hat into his eyes, and curled, dirty and unshorn, around his ears and the nape of his neck. His face was covered with a stubble of four days’ growth, his body with rags—a coat; a shirt, the button long since gone at the neck; and trousers gaping in wide rents at the knees, and torn at the ankles where they flapped around miss-mated socks and shoes.
A hundred, two hundred people passed him in a block, the populace of the Bowery awakening into fullest life at midnight, men, women and children—the dregs of the city’s scum—the aristocracy of upper Fifth Avenue, of Riverside Drive, aping Bohemianism, seeking the lure of the Turkey Trot, transported from the Barbary Coast of San Francisco. Rich and poor, squalor and affluence, vice and near-vice surged by him, voicing their different interests with laughter and sobs and soft words and blasphemy, and, in a sort of mocking chorus, the composite effect rose and fell in pitiful, jangling discords.
Few gave him heed—and these few but a cursory, callous glance. The Flopper, on the inside of the sidewalk, in the shadow of the buildings, gave as little as he got, though his eyes were fastened sharply, now ahead, now, screwing around his body to look behind him, on the faces of the pedestrians as they passed; or, rather, he appeared to look through and beyond those in his immediate vicinity to the ones that followed in his rear from further down the street, or approached him from the next corner.
Suddenly the Flopper shrank into a doorway. From amidst the crowd behind, the yellow flare of a gasoline lamp, outhanging from a secondhand shop, glinted on brass buttons. An officer, leisurely accommodating his pace to his own monarchial pleasure, causing his hurrying fellow occupants of the pavement to break and circle around him, sauntered casually by. The Flopper’s black eyes contracted with hate and a scowl settled on his face, as he watched the policeman pass; then, as the other was lost again in the crowd ahead, he once more resumed his progress down the block.