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By. Gary Beck

It has always been cold. We never could afford a stove, so we tried to keep warm wearing the leavings of one hundred strangers. But if we never quite succeeded in losing the chill that made our fingers stiff and clumsy, there were times when life was rich and full. One of these times was when I was five years old. A man knocked on the door. My mother opened the door and asked what he wanted. He said that he represented the welfare agency of the city, and that our name had been given to them in order to provide us with assistance. At this, my father, who was listening from the bedroom, mustered the little dignity that remained to him and said: “Sir, I have made many mistakes in my life, but I have never permitted myself the degradation of accepting charity.” He returned to the bedroom with the haunting thoughts of pride and his children, who were never warm.

The man turned to go and then he noticed me. “Are you cold, son?” He lifted me and placed me on his knee. “I’m going to tell you a story,” he said. “Once there was a family who lived in a great big black stove. They ate coal and wood, and drank kerosene. Sometimes they were hungry, but generally they had enough to eat. One day, though, there was a great noise and the stove shook and fell on its side. After that it was carried away somewhere and dropped with a terrible thump. The family was very frightened. Soon they began to grow hungry. They waited for a long time, becoming hungrier and hungrier, when suddenly the door to the stove opened and someone gave them food.” At this point he looked at his watch, muttered something, put on his coat and said: “I’ll have to finish the story another time,” and went out the door.

Three months later I contracted pneumonia. The doctor told Mommy that I was going to die. My brother Jimmy came to see me and told me that when I died they would put me in an oven. Then I could live in a stove and be warm, just like in the story.

Gary Beck resides in New York City.

Biocratic is a musician from New York City.