Miami University Katherine Anne Porter Theft from The Gyroscope These journal entries are short, informal responses to things we are reading and talking about. They can be very casual, however they should also be very thoughtful. In general, they should run somewhere between 350-500 words and should display to me that you have not only read whatever source material your response is based on but that you have processed it as wll. Specificity is good. Direct references to readings are good too. 1930
Katherine Anne Porter
FROM The Gyroscope
SHE HAD the purse in her hand when she came in. Standing in the
middle of the floor, holding her bathrobe around her and trailing a
damp towel in one hand, she surveyed the immediate past and remembered everything clearly. Yes, she had opened the flap and spread it out
on the bench after she had dried the purse with her handkerchief.
She had intended to take the Elevated, and naturally she looked in
her purse to make certain she had the fare, and was pleased to find forty
cents in the coin envelope. She was going to pay her own fare, too, even
if Camilo did have the habit of seeing her up the steps and dropping a
nickel in the machine before he gave the turnstile a little push and sent
her through it with a bow. Camilo by a series of compromises had managed to make effective a fairly complete set of the smaller courtesies,
ignoring the larger and more troublesome ones. She had walked with
him to the station in a pouring rain, because she knew he was almost
as poor as she was, and when he insisted on a taxi, she was firm and
said, “You know it simply will not do.” He was wearing a new hat of a
pretty biscuit shade, for it never occurred to him to buy anything of a
practical colour; he had put it on for the first time and the rain was
spoiling it. She kept thinking, “But this is dreadful, where will he get
another?” and compared it with Eddie’s hats that always seemed to be
precisely seven years old and as if they had been quite purposely left out
in the rain, and they sat with a careless and incidental rightness on
Eddie. But Camilo was far different, if he wore a shabby hat it would be
merely shabby on him, and he would lose his spirits over it. If she had
not feared Camilo would take it badly, for he insisted on the practise of
his little ceremonies up to the point he had fixed for them, she would
KATHERINE ANNE PORTER
have said to him as they left Thora’s house, “Do go home. I can surely
reach the station by myself.”
“It is written that we must be rained upon to-night,” said Camilo, “so
let it be together.”
At the foot of the platform stairway she staggered slightly — they
were both nicely set up on Thora’s cocktails — and said: “At least,
Camilo, do me the favor not to climb these stairs in your present state,
since for you it is only a matter of coming down again at once, and
you’ll certainly break your neck.”
He made three quick bows, he was Spanish, and leaped off through
the rainy darkness. She stood watching him, for he was a very graceful
young man, thinking that to-morrow morning he would gaze soberly at
his spoiled hat and soggy shoes and possibly associate her with his
misery. And as she watched, he stopped at the far corner and took off
his hat and hid it under his overcoat. She felt she had betrayed him by
seeing, because he would have been humiliated if he thought she even
suspected him of trying to save his hat.
Roger’s voice sounded over her shoulder above the clang of the rain
falling on the stairway shed, wanting to know what she was doing out in
the rain at this time of night, and did she take herself for a duck? His
long, imperturbable face was streaming with water, and he tapped a
bulging spot on the breast of his buttoned-up overcoat: “Hat,” he said.
“Come on, let’s take a taxi.”
She settled back against Roger’s arm which he laid around her shoulders, and with the gesture they exchanged a glance full of long amiable
associations, then she looked through the window at the rain changing
the shapes of everything, and the colours. The taxi dodged in and out
between the pillars of the Elevated, skidding slightly on every curve, and
she said: “The more it skids the calmer I feel, so I really must be drunk.”
“You must be,” said Roger. “This bird is a homicidal maniac, and I
could do with a cocktail myself this minute.”
They waited on the traffic at Fortieth Street and Sixth Avenue, and
three boys walked before the nose of the taxi. Under the globes of light
they were cheerful scarecrows, all very thin and wearing very seedy
snappy-cut suits and gay neckties. They were not very sober either, and
they stood for a moment wobbling in front of the car, and there was
an argument going on among them. They leaned toward each other as
if they were getting ready to sing, and the first one said: “When I get
married it won’t be jus’ for getting married, I’m gonna marry for love,
see?” and the second one said, “Aw, gwan and tell that stuff to her,
why’nt yuh?” and the third one gave a kind of hoot, and said, “Hell, dis
guy? Wot the hell’s he got?” and the first one said: “Aaah, shurrup yuh
mush, I got plenty.” Then they all squealed and scrambled across the
street beating the third one on the back and pushing him around.
“Nuts,” commented Roger, “pure nuts.”
Two girls went skittering by in short transparent raincoats, one green,
one red, their heads tucked against the drive of the rain. One of them
was saying to the other, “Yes, I know all about that. But what about me?
You’re always so sorry for him . . .” and they ran on with their little
pelican legs flashing back and forth.
The taxi backed up suddenly and leaped forward again, and after a
while Roger said: “I had a letter from Stella to-day, and she’ll be home
on the 26th, so I suppose she’s made up her mind and it’s all settled.”
“I had a sort of letter to-day too,” she said. “I think it is time for you
and Stella to do something definite.”
When the taxi stopped on the corner of West Fifty-third Street, Roger
said, “I’ve just enough if you’ll add ten cents,” so she opened her purse
and gave him a dime, and he said, “That’s beautiful, that purse.”
“It’s a birthday present,” she told him, “and I like it. How’s your show
“Oh, still hanging on, I guess. I don’t go near the place. Nothing sold
yet. I mean to keep right on the way I’m going and they can take it or
leave it. I’m through with the argument.”
“It’s absolutely a matter of holding out, isn’t it?”
“Holding out’s the tough part.”
“Good-night, you should take aspirin and push yourself into a tub of
hot water, you look as though you’re catching cold.”
With the purse under her arm she went upstairs, and on the first
landing Bill heard her step and poked his head out with his hair tumbled and his eyes red, and he said: “For Christ’s sake come in and have a
drink with me. I’ve had some bad news.
“You’re perfectly sopping,” said Bill. They had two drinks, and Bill
told how the director had thrown his play out after the cast had been
picked over twice, and had gone through three rehearsals. “I said to
him, ‘I didn’t say it was a masterpiece, I said it was a good show.’ And he
said, ‘It just doesn’t play, do you see? It needs a doctor.’ So I’m stuck,
absolutely stuck,” said Bill, on the edge of weeping again. “I’ve been
crying,” he told her, “in my cups.” And he went on to ask her if she
KATHERINE ANNE PORTER
realized that his wife was ruining him with her extravagance. “I send her
ten dollars every week of my unhappy life, and I don’t really have to. She
threatens to jail me if I don’t, but she can’t do it. God, let her try it after
the way she treated me! She’s no right to alimony, and she knows it. But
I send it because I can’t bear to see anybody suffer. And I’m way behind
on the piano and the victrola, both — ”
“Well, this is a pretty rug, anyhow,” she said.
Bill stared at it and blew his nose. “I got it at Ricci’s for ninety-five
dollars,” he said. “Ricci said it once belonged to Marie Dressier and
cost fifteen hundred dollars, but there’s a burnt place on it. Can you
“No,” she said.
They had another drink and she went to her apartment on the floor
above, and there, she now remembered distinctly, she had taken the
letter out of the purse before she spread the purse out to dry.
She had sat down and read the letter over again: but there were
phrases that insisted on being read many times, they had a life of their
own separate from the others, and when she tried to read past and
around them, they moved with the movement of her eyes, and she
could not escape t h e m . . . “thinking about you more than I mean to . . .
yes, I even talk about you . . . why were you so anxious to destroy . . .
even if I could see you now I would n o t . . . not worth all this abominable . . . the end . . . ”
Carefully she tore the letter into narrow strips and touched a lighted
match to them in the coal grate.
Early the next morning she was in the bath tub when the janitress
knocked and then came in, calling out that she wished to examine the
radiators before she started the furnace going for the winter. After
moving about the room for a few minutes, the janitress went out closing
the door very sharply.
She came out of the bathroom to get a cigarette from the package in
the purse. The purse was gone. She dressed and made coffee, and sat by
the window while she drank it. Certainly the janitress had taken the
purse, and certainly it would be impossible to get it back without a great
deal of ridiculous excitement. Then let it go. With this decision of her
mind, there rose coincidentally in her blood a deep almost murderous
anger. She set the cup carefully in the centre of the table, and walked
unsteadily downstairs, three long flights and a short hall and a steep
short flight into the basement, where the janitress, her face streaked
with coal dust, was shaking up the furnace. “Will you please give me
back my purse? There isn’t any money in it. It was a present, and I don’t
want to lose it.”
The janitress turned without straightening up and peered at her with
hot flickering eyes, a red light reflected from the furnace in them. “What
do you mean, your purse?”
“The gold cloth purse you took from the wooden bench in my
room,” she said. “I must have it back.”
“Before God I never laid eyes on your purse, and that’s the holy
truth,” said the janitress.
“Oh, well then, keep it,” she said, but in a very bitter voice, “keep it if
you want it so much.” And she walked away.
She remembered how she had never locked a door in her life, on
some principle of rejection in her that made her uncomfortable in the
ownership of things, and her paradoxical boast before the warnings of
her friends, that she had never lost a penny by theft; and she had been
pleased with the bleak humility of this concrete example designed to
illustrate and justify a certain fixed, otherwise baseless and general faith
which ordered the movements of her life without regard to her will in
In this moment she felt that she had been robbed of an enormous
number of valuable things, whether material or intangible: things lost
or broken by her own fault, things she had forgotten and left in houses
when she moved: books borrowed and not returned, journeys she had
planned and had not made, words she had waited to hear spoken to her
and had not heard, and the words she had meant to answer with bitter
alternatives and intolerable substitutes worse than nothing, and yet
inescapable: the long patient suffering of dying friendships and the dark
inexplicable death of love — all that she had had, and all that she had
missed, were lost together, and were twice lost in this landslide of remembered losses.
The janitress was following her upstairs with her purse in her hand
and the same deep red fire flickering in her eyes. The janitress thrust the
purse towards her while they were still a half dozen steps apart, and
said: “Don’t never tell on me. I musta been crazy. I get crazy in the head
sometimes, I swear I do. My son can tell you.”
She took the purse after a moment, and the janitress went on: “I got
a niece who is going on seventeen, and she’s a nice girl and I thought I’d
give it to her. She needs a pretty purse. I musta been crazy, I thought
maybe you wouldn’t mind, you leave things around and don’t seem to
KATHERINE ANNE PORTER
She said: “I missed this because it was a present to me from some
one . . .”
The janitress said: “He’d get you another if you lost this one. My niece
is young and needs pretty things, we oughta give the young ones a
chance. She’s got young men after her maybe will want to marry her.
She oughta have nice things. She needs them bad right now. You’re a
grown woman, you’ve had your chance, you ought to know how it is!”
She held the purse out to the janitress saying: “You don’t know what
you’re talking about. Here, take it, I’ve changed my mind. I really don’t
The janitress looked up at her with hatred and said: “I don’t want it
either now. My niece is young and pretty, she don’t need fixin’ up to be
pretty, she’s young and pretty anyhow! I guess you need it worse than
“It wasn’t really yours in the first place,” she said, turning away. “You
mustn’t talk as if I had stolen it from you.”
“It’s not from me, it’s from her you’re stealing it,” said the janitress,
and went back downstairs.
She laid the purse on the table and sat down with the cup of chilled
coffee, and thought. I was right not to be afraid of any thief but myself,
who will end by leaving me nothing.
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