To spend one night with you / In our old rendezvous / To reminisce with you / That's my desire
September 2, 1939, in a heavy wind that carried the first whiff of a new season, Kenny Donahue came to town on a bus. He wore a plain brown suit handed down from his uncle and carried a single shabby suitcase packed with just enough to make do for a few weeks. He was looking to get work at the World's Fair, but that's just temporary, he thought, that wasn't what he came for. He packed a few clothes he never intended to wear again and filled the rest with magazines and clippings of the lush life, the high times, pictures of golden boys and men about town, debutantes and swells dressed to the nines, tuxedos emerging from slick city cars and manicured hands caressing crystal champagne flutes and young people smiling from nightclub tables, cigarettes glowing in the black-and-white half light. He left behind all he had been and came to town with a yen for the promise of a new world and stories to tell so no one would know where he came from and who he really was and how he got here.
He came to town thinking he'd be Kenneth, or just Ken, but it never stuck. Kenny, they called him, always Kenny, that's how he was known. Kenny Donahue came to town fresh, the kind of kid you see from a speeding car, passing him almost unnoticed in the middle of a farmer's field, staring off. Kenny Donahue standing in a field, aching, pants on fire, hearing music in the air, and he got on a bus and came to town. He came to town on a bus and three years later left in an unmarked box that nobody would ever guess held someone who'd been in limousines and private party boats and opening-night taxis.
He came to town on a bus from western Pennsylvania, 19 years old, though he told everyone 23 and got away with it. Kenny Donahue came with a face you wanted to spoil. It was his calling card, his game, his alibi. He could curl up on your favorite couch in his stocking feet and make you believe that everything you ever longed for was still possible. He'd let you press your knee against him under the table and never let on. Kenny Donahue would grab your crotch in a crowded lobby, let you fuck him in the back of a Cadillac, suck him off on a sky-high terrace because he loved the terraces best, Kenny did. You'd find him out there at evening soirees or taking the afternoon sun or with a cup of joe in your robe at dawn, but it wasn't about the money. If the money came, well sure, who wouldn't, who doesn't want it like that? But Kenny Donahue wasn't about the money. Nobody knows that today.
Nobody remembers what he came for - the fresh boy of 1939, a beaming face in the black-and-white crowd; the golden boy of 1940 on the shiny chrome stool, cigarette glowing in the half light; the man about town of 1941, a tuxedo emerging from slick city cars. If they speak of him at all these days, it's not about what he really wanted. They only talk about what he got - a shocking fate in screaming headlines, a chalk outline in a mocked-up tabloid photo. But who speaks of him at all these days? Who's still alive ever gazed into those wide inviting eyes? Nobody knows them now, those eyes, that face, but back then, oh yes, back then, he was something to see.
I basked in his attraction for a couple of hours or so / His manners were a fraction too meticulous / If he was real or not I couldn't tell / But like a silly fool I fell / Mad about the boy
In 1939, on the warmest October 18th on record, Kenny Donahue stood outside the door of this place for the first time. He stood there in a plain brown suit he'd never wear again, trying not to look too excited about his first visit to a chic New York club. He had it in his head he would order a Scotch, neat, because he heard somebody say that once, and he pressed - discreetly but unmistakably - a little closer to the older gentleman he came with.
George Berkeley was creeping up on 60. Close enough to 60 to want to hide his age but advertise his wealth and social standing. He came from a family of comfortable merchants, people who changed their name from Berkowitz before George was born, long before he married the heiress to a sizable New England glassworks fortune. He was still trapped in this marriage of "convenience," but that wasn't something he was likely to talk about these days. You see, on the foggy morning of November 11, 1920, George Berkeley left his wife and children on their Connecticut estate for what turned out to be a very extended stay in the city, having been discovered some three days prior groping the pants of a stable hand named Kevin O'Malley. But that wasn't something he intended to tell young Mr. Donahue tonight...or ever.
Kenny Donahue and George Berkeley met at the World's Fair, like something out of a movie where Ginger Rogers snags Adolphe Menjou at a souvenir stand. Met cute, as they used to say. Kenny had been hired as a chair pusher because of his looks, the way they pick waiters for a charity ball. He pushed the older man around the fairgrounds all day in a rented rattan chair on wheels.
George was wearing a white Havana suit. His graying hair was colored with a flat cordovan finish.
Kenny's uniform was a pair of khaki shorts, a khaki shirt rolled up over the elbows, and a pith helmet. The look was not lost on George Berkeley. Not long after, Kenny Donahue stood outside this door in his hand-me-down suit trying to hide the fraying at the cuffs.
His companion was overdressed for the occasion, as if for an elegant black-tie affair.
"The 20s, that was the time, the 20s, right? What a wild time that must have been," Kenny said.
"Yes, of course, the places we used to go, the things we did, you can imagine."
"I'll own a club like this someday, you'll see. Can you picture me, gliding from table to table in my tux: 'Another round of drinks for Mr. Berkeley and his guests!' Can you see it?"
"Yes, the 20s, what a wide open town this was back then. What a wild and free life I lived when I was young. Your age. Young."
And they went on, embellishing, impressing, dreaming. Locked together in an unspoken pact of believing. The maitre d' sized up the oddly matched pair and made no such agreement.
"I'm sorry, I can't give you a table, we're all full up tonight."
"I beg your pardon?"
"We're terribly sorry, but you'll have to leave."
"I can pay."
"We don't want your money, sir. Perhaps another night."
"I don't believe - this is ridiculous."
"Please, there's no need for a scene."
In a discreet whisper: "I'm George Berkeley."
"We don't ask for names."
"I'll ask you once more, sir. It's time for you and your young friend to leave."
"You may be dressed swell but that don't mean you ain't a cocksucker," Kenny shot back.
The moment of bravado wasn't lost on George, humiliated and retreating with this boy, his darling boy, George was sure now, in tow. The next day he bought Kenny Donahue his first tuxedo, rented him a flat on the Upper East Side, and took him to the bar at the Plaza in the company of a very discreet female couple who had taught themselves to be quite comfortable in evening gowns on the arms of men.
They drank French champagne out of crystal flutes and toasted to a long and prosperous future.
You go to my head / With a smile that makes my temperature rise / Like a summer with a thousand Julys / You intoxicate my soul with your eyes
On June 27, 1901, under a full moon, seventy-five fairies, as they were known back then, were found here in the basement, dressed as women in low-neck dresses, skirts above their ankles and wigs of every color. Investigators said the fairies met their trade in the saloon up here and brought them downstairs, where they had keys to a row of compartments like the ones in a bathhouse. In a back room of the saloon done over in cheap velvet and brocade, one investigator observed two of the fairies sitting at a fat man's table, where they had him buy drinks, then undid his trousers and masturbated him in full view of everyone. The Times called this place "without question one of the worst houses of perverts in the city" and reported that during the raid, one fairy known as Gracie screamed unprintable obscenities at a small crowd gathering on the street as she was taken away.
That same night, a young student at Brown University on his very first trip to the city wandered the streets alone and vaguely agitated. He wasn't even sure what he was looking for but he felt there was something - hadn't he read it, did someone tell him? Whatever it was, the faint whiff of it kept him wandering half the night until he found himself just outside this door. Standing in the crowd, watching the paddy wagons fill with shrieking fairies and their flustered trade, 18-year-old George Berkeley felt a narrow escape burning in his gut and hopped the next train back to Providence.
And spent the rest of his life regretting the chances he didn't take, and humiliated by the ones he did.
Why tell them all your secrets / Who kissed there long ago / Whispering grass the trees don't need to know
A meteor shower hit the sky the night of August 9, 1940, a regular phenomenon young Kenny used to wait for every summer as a boy. Racing out into the pitch-dark fields near his Western Pennsylvania home, he cast his hopes on the white-hot streaks, the same wish on every star, every year. But on this August night in 1940, Kenny Donahue wasn't watching. He sat at this table for the first time, fixed in the gaze of his dashing 30-year-old companion, as the maitre d' fawned.
"Mr. Morgan, how nice to see you again. Been away?"
"South of France, every summer, you know."
"Ah, of course."
Wayne Morgan slipped some bills into the maitre d's waiting hand, never taking his eyes off the young man across the table, as if there were no one else in the room. "I can't wait to see you on the Riviera. The places we'll go, the things we'll do. Do you like it here?"
"I'll own a club like this someday. Is that crazy?"
"No reason you shouldn't. Make a plan, we'll talk." Wayne's focus was drawn to Kenny's hand, the way he held his cigarette, the way he smoothed the back of his hair with his palm. The maitre d' - did he recognize Kenny from a year earlier? - well, he was all gracious servitude now.
"This is Mr. Donahue, Arthur. You'll be seeing a lot of him."
"You're always welcome, Mr. Donahue."
No more empty wishes cast to the sky. No more pretense of double dates. No more stuffy hotel bars out of the glare of prying eyes. No more quiet nights of bridge with dowagers, however elegant.
"Is that the tux Berkeley bought you? God, he's pathetic, it's so out of date. We'll have to get you another. We can't have you meet Brenda Frazier looking like that."
"Only the debutante of the year, that's who - surely you know."
"Oh, her, sure, of course, Brenda," Kenny said, resolving never to be caught out like that again.
"You'll dance with her. There'll be photographers."
He noticed Wayne staring at his lips.
"God, boy, you make my mouth water."
High above the rooftops and terraces, the celestial light show this year was intense enough to burst through the artificial brightness. But Kenny Donahue wasn't watching. He was his own white heat now, streaking across the pitch-dark eyes of another man, alive in a future he once could only wish for, in a world open to every possibility.
Kenny couldn't know on this night that fifteen years later, on another moonless evening, Wayne Morgan would be sitting at this very table again, alone, a middle-aged alcoholic vaguely connected to a scandalous murder the city had long since forgotten.
Why tell them all the old things / They're buried under the snow / Whispering grass don't tell the trees / Cause the trees don't need to know
On March 8, 1942, a day that startled with the first sunny promise of spring and ended with a threatening black storm blowing down from the Poconos, Kenny Donahue sat at this table for the last time, angrily fussing with his third drink, Scotch, ordered by name, one of those brands popular with the smart set, and with explicit instructions to the waiter about temperature and the correct glass to use. Across from him sat Wayne Morgan, his gaze darting from one man to another as he told the maitre d' they had been wintering in Havana. Truth was, Kenny hadn't been asked along on that trip.
Wayne Morgan went on, embellishing, impressing anyone within earshot, young men in fresh tuxedoes, leaning in to catch the words, to catch his eye if they were lucky. "Of course I have to be there, it's expected. It wouldn't look good. There'll be photographers. I'll dance with her. That bitch is worth 20 million."
Wayne broke the news that Kenny would definitely not be accompanying him to Lois Atherton's big coming-out bash.
"For God's sake, quit moping, Kenny. And fix your tie. You're not at one of George Berkeley's dowdy hotel bars now. I'm the one who opened these doors, not him. Certainly not you."
In Kenny's mind, the words blended with George Berkeley's on an uncomfortable evening less than two years before.
"You have to understand this city. It's a wolf pack. A young man like you, fresh for the kill, they'll tell you anything: 'You must stay at my cottage in Newport some time, Cary Grant is coming to dinner, my fortune is all tied up in railroad bonds at the moment but any day I'm expecting, if you can just cover the tab until next week.' Learn what you can believe. Trust no one."
Eventually, Kenny learned there never was a wild and free life in the 20s. At least not for George Berkeley.
A young man at a nearby table cocked his head, straining to hear Wayne's discreet whisper.
"I can't have people go around saying Leo Morgan's son is a... I have a name, a reputation, a position to protect. Wise up."
Kenny had drawn up the necessary details of the nightclub venture. It never happened.
"Look around you. These oily sophisticates. They come from nothing. They promise the moon but they can't deliver. Wayne Morgan has everyone thinking the money is all his own, that's the only reason they fawn on him. The truth is, his father has him on an income, with a very short leash."
Kenny thought of the famous photo, last year in Life magazine, Kenny Donahue sharing a quiet moment with the debutante of the year. He knew how to play the game. Why was this happening now?
"The truth is, these so-called 'bright young things' like Morgan haven't the history, the position, a solid foundation that commands respect. The truth is, they create themselves all new from moment to moment. If that's what you think you want, I can't stop you."
"The fact is, my father has arranged a commission for me with the government. The fact is, I expect to be leaving for South America soon. The fact is, this just isn't working for me any more. Did you really think this would last? I suppose I should apologize, but I can't. The fact is, I won't."
Wayne rose without looking at him, threw some bills down on the table, and walked out. Kenny sat there dabbing furiously at the liquor spilled on his sleeve, all his eggs, broken, in one sorry basket.
I'll face the unknown / I'll build a world of my own / No one knows better than I myself / I'm by myself alone
If you walk out that door, head down three blocks, take a right and keep on another two, there's a place where back then you could find a room for rent at a reasonable price, if you weren't too picky. They were small, a little stuffy, you had to share a bathroom with everyone else on the floor. But if you were lucky enough to get one at the front, you had a window to the crazy life down on the street all hours of the day and night, better than a picture show if you had the time and inclination to watch. And for nearly 20 years Mrs. Ida Lester made sure those windows were sparkling clean for her boys to gaze out onto the city of their dreams.
On a rainy April 25, 1935, just days after her husband of 22 years died, this round and hearty German-born housewife discovered a strongbox of cash the miserable tightwad kept squirreled away under a creaky floorboard. She found the bottle of whiskey off-limits to her throughout her marriage. She unlocked the cabinet holding her wedding crystal. She put on her Sunday hat, the powder blue, and toasted herself in her grandmother's mirror. Then Ida put aside her life of duty and quiet respectability in the little upstate town of New Paltz and hopped a train. She arrived in the city the night of a raucous, impromptu street party outside a cozy building with a For Sale sign out front. Soon any young man looking for a modest home where you could come and go at any hour with anyone you like - no questions asked and a fresh-baked pie every Sunday evening - any young man of modest means knew Mrs. Ida Lester's was the place he was looking for.
And when I die, don't pay the preacher / For speaking of my glory and my fame / Just see what the boys in the back room will have / And tell them I sighed / And tell them I cried / And tell them I died of the same
Ida's boys were ministers' sons from Iowa and college grads from Baton Rouge and builders of skyscrapers who never seemed to visit their folks on Staten Island. And the oddest one of all, a young man about town who came to her late on the sweltering night of July 22, 1942, looking for a place to stay, just temporary, he said, because any day now things were going to happen.
"Big things, see, I'll have it again," Kenny Donahue said. "The way it used to be, they can't take that away from me."
He showed her some newspaper clippings he kept in a scrapbook, photos of him on the beach, in a crowded theater lobby, all in white on a vast lawn hugging a dog like the kind they kept at the New Paltz firehouse. They shared a bottle of bock beer and talked about the war. She told him she was born in Denmark, not Dresden, and strained to mask the accent that might give her away. He told her he had taken a position with the government and expected to be leaving soon for South America.
A curious kid, this one, with tastes and manners that set him apart from the other boys. He often had a hard time making even the meager rent, but if your vantage point from the street was right, you could look up into the window of room 327 on any given night and watch him meticulously dress himself in a tuxedo he tried very hard to keep clean and intact.
"Look at him. I'm trying to remember how I saw him, how it felt when I still wanted him. I can't do it. It's like trying to recapture what it was like before you were able to read or ride a bike, before you knew what it was to be drunk. Can't be done, try as you might to bring back the sensation. The wonder, the charge, without reference to anything but that first spark of desire, yet now it's all so concrete, matter of fact, down to earth. I used to watch him move like this, the cords in his neck tensing, his hands gesturing in the air, the way he smoothed the back of his hair with his palm and smiled with his entire face. There was this thing he did, this little absent-minded repetition, sprawled on my couch or terrace in his stocking feet, legs crossed at the ankles, brushing the toes of his right foot across those of his left, over and over. A habit too casual to call it nervous, more like the pleasure he felt in his own body. I used to stare at it endlessly, with that sensation you get, you know, not exactly a tingle but something in your spine, radiating, holding perfectly still not to break the spell. Moments like that, he could make me believe anything. No more. Sure, it's all still there, I can see it. I'm looking at him, he's no different. But what was it like to block out everything but the sight of him, to go into a spin at the sound of his voice, to feel the room gather around that smile, those wide inviting eyes?
It's gone. How? Well, it happens, that's all there is to it and no point lingering over it. But what was it like? I can't imagine now."
"He was my boy. He came to me without experience, without expectation, no judgment, no comparison to what came before. Nothing had come before. He was newborn into my arms and the world he saw was my world, through my eyes. And he loved what he saw there, and suddenly, for the first time in years, I did, too. All of it fresh again and alive, without habit, nothing taken for granted. The whole city at our feet and I walked him down streets I walked a million times and saw things I swear I never saw before, through his eyes.
You don't know what it's like. You don't know how it feels when you can't keep up with the crowd, when the people who knew you best, the people who had the map and spoke the language of your common youth, have fled to other states, to safer streets, to the shelter of miserable towns they thought they left behind forever. And you're still standing there, waiting to be known, still hoping to reveal everything about you not yet understood. You're standing there afraid there's really nothing left to know, nothing more to understand, that all they see in you is all there is - an empty conversation and remote, unfelt opinion; a bag of brittle bones and a vague pain behind the eyes you hope will go away, you pray is nothing serious this time. It's a boy's town, and look at me, the picture of an old man, with a history, sure, a life up to now, of course, but who cares? It's the past, and however rich and fascinating and full of mystery it may be, it's not what's happening at this moment. And the future, no, I don't think so, well not much of one anyway, just the inevitable winding down, peaceful if you happen to be lucky, but no surprises. And then suddenly - surprise. And this boy wants to know where you've been and what you've been doing. He believes you have something to teach him and he wants to know how it feels in your world, so he listens to words you've said a million times and stories that should have grown stale in the telling but it's as if you've never spoken them before, as if you truly had something to pass on. He takes you in with his eyes and his fingers and lets you wrap yourself around him breathing in the unfamiliar scent of his soft skin. There's passion again and you feel what keeps you alive, and this boy, this darling boy who wants so much, he walks beside you out into the streets with endless possibility and you realize what you came here for is still calling to you. It charges you, it puts a dance in your step, it clears the fog from your senses and plugs you in to a glowing, blaring night that can be yours again. And together you're in Boys Town, an endless city of tenement youths and nightclub dancers and sailors and immigrants newly arrived on shore.
The young man I rushed to the window of my childhood home to watch carry milk through fresh, white snow. The golden blond at the blue, blue swimming hole lit from behind by the red afternoon. The stable hand who thoughtlessly let me slip my hand into his coarse woolen pants then laughed and rode away. The boy across the table tasting his first champagne. And you took all that from me. He was my darling boy and you turned him into a man about town, a guy on the make, a party-goer with smooth moves and easy lines, darting from room to room, feverish for the latest news, the next big thing, the place to be seen.
So no, I don't want him back. I don't know him any more. That's not my boy. Keep him. Or throw him out into the streets. It's all the same to me."
Romance is mush, stifling those who strive / I'll live a lush life in some small dive /And there I'll be, while I rot with the rest / Of those whose lives are lonely, too
Despite an unpredicted early frost, the streets of the city were overrun and full of energy that October 17, 1942. The day I finally met him. Young men and women in uniform on the sidewalks, in the subway, at the bars, some ready to ship out, others waiting their time, thousands of them, packed into taxis, the automat, sleeping four and five to a room at hotels, the Y, Mrs. Lester's boarding house, doing her part for the war effort. Packed together in military units, sharing the camaraderie that came with fighting a common enemy, sharing the loneliness of being away from home in a strange place for the first time. Leaving behind the isolation of small towns, discovering night life, unmarked doors and each other in the charged atmosphere of a new world clad in khaki and dress blue.
And me, I have to fall in with a 4-F in a black tuxedo at midnight. I knew the face. I'd seen it in newspapers and magazines, clipped the pictures and tacked them to my wall - at the beach, in a crowded lobby, on some rich person's lawn all in white hugging a dog like the one they kept at the firehouse in Traverse City, Michigan. The town I left behind and swore I'd never go back to. Here I am in the city at last, watching my dreams lived out by some pretty face on the society pages, waiting for the life I was owed to land in my lap, waiting, waiting, trying damn hard to hold onto my last few dollars, trying even harder to hold onto what I came here for. Maybe I'll meet him Sunday, maybe Monday, maybe not. Still, I'm sure to someday he'll come along. And suddenly - surprise.
I should have noticed how his jacket was beginning to fray at the cuffs. I should have suspected when he mumbled some weak alibi about his "driver" then walked me ten blocks to this club. I should have left him here humiliated when they turned us away at the door. I should have spun on my heels and ran when he slipped the key into the lock of that shabby rooming house. But the way he looked at me, making me believe everything I ever heard or read or thought or wanted about him.
So I climbed the 45 stairs to that third floor room facing the street, unseen by any eyes but his in a city teeming with life, on a well-lit midnight, on the brink of a new age.
They sparkle / They bubble / They're gonna get you in a whole lotta trouble / You're overworkin' 'em / There's danger lurkin' in / Them there eyes
At 11:23 on the morning of the coldest October 18th on record, 1942, Mrs. Ida Lester climbed the 45 stairs to the third floor, as she did every Thursday, to wash the windows of the rooms facing the noisy street.
"I always do the third floor on Thursdays," she told the police. "The boys know this, they expect it. I let myself in, just like I always do."
At 11:28 she opened the door of room 327 and discovered the lifeless body of her tenant, a young man about town with a scrapbook of clippings. She told them she never saw him leave the night before, or that morning, and never saw anyone strange come in.
"I see everything. I watch over them. They're my boys, you know, like my own sons. You couldn't know, officer. You wouldn't know anything about them, would you?"
He was naked.
"They're my boys. I bake them pies. I wash their windows so the rooms stay sunny."
He was lying by the window in a pool of blood.
"This is his tuxedo. I never knew where he was going. He was late on his rent. Every week. But he always looked so sharp."
He was curled up like a child, still bearing the scent of the man who killed him.
"You couldn't know."
Do you know how a lost heart fears / The thought of reminiscing / And how lips that taste of tears / Lose their taste for kissing
How long had I wished for a moment just like this, played the fantasy over and over in my head? The clothes you're wearing are the clothes you wore, the smile you are smiling you were smiling then, but who knows? Who remembers? Who saw anything? Everyone suspected Berkeley or Morgan. But they never proved it. They didn't have to. The papers had a field day with the dirt they dug up. "Millionaires and rent boy in sick triangle. Cafè society's dirty secrets. Lush life ends in tragedy." It had all the elements of a juicy murder story. Young. Rich. Nude. Twisted. They said Kenny was blackmailing one or the other, maybe both. They never proved it. Speculation in the air - maybe they hired some down-and-outer to do the deed and make it look like a random robbery. But they never found him. They never tried. The police were satisfied to chalk it up to another pervert dead at the hands of a hustler. Love for sale, appetizing young love for sale. Who knew if it was true? Who cares? There's no one to tell, nothing left to do with the truth about what was done, no one wants to hear it now. Certainly not from someone walking this world like a ghost, haunting this dive, dead to hope and longing, a name connected to nothing, an image that doesn't linger, glimpsed at the end of a long corridor, the far corner of a city block, peripheral, noiseless, if glimpsed at all. A guy afraid to be what he couldn't shake, never got what he came for. A guy who never was, who looked to the papers and magazines, to the Georges, the Waynes he saw there, the men who could make it happen, someone to watch over me. A guy who gazed from afar at the Kennys of this city, the golden boys, the boy on the shiny chrome stool, the face in the misty light, the breathless touch of springtime, such a hungry yearning burning inside of me - in the roaring traffic boom, in the silence of his lonely room, no no - not for me. A lucky star's above, but not for me. The way you changed my life, the way you haunt my dreams, the way I held the knife, no no no no, they can't take that away from me. The way you look tonight, curled up like a child, naked. That's my desire. Though I dream in vain, in my heart it always will remain, my desire, lying in a pool of blood.
You don't know how hearts burn / For love that cannot live yet never dies / Until you face each dawn with sleepless eyes / You don't know what love is
May 3, 1933. Thirteen-year-old Kenny Donahue should have been in school. Other boys were playing football, picking fights, carrying girls' books for the first time. But Kenny Donahue wandered the streets, daydreaming of theater lobbies and terraces with a view and city lights bouncing off rain-soaked pavements. He wandered the streets, distracted, aching, pants on fire, and he heard the music coming from the only movie house in his Western Pennsylvania hometown. The poster outside showed two beautiful people entwined, possessed, and he bought a ticket and went inside.
From the very first scene, you know she doesn't belong in this factory town, you can tell right off. Not just by what she says about her boredom, her hopes. Not just by the daggers her eyes shoot at her good-for-nothing boyfriend. You can tell by something in her voice, the way she sounds trained, no accent to give her away. The way she walks faster than everyone else, tossing her chestnut hair. The way her eyes gaze off into the middle distance, fixed on the glow of life far from the assembly line. She stands by the tracks, watching the train pass through on its way to the city. People in dining cars, laughing, touching, the way they never do in her sad little town, shining in the satin crystal light as they travel closer to the place she knows she has to be.
She meets a man in the city, an influential man trapped in a marriage of convenience. Influential, because she's eager and tough but still unsure enough to find his age and authority attractive. And she gets a new name, a new story, a new life. She kicks off her heels and feels the plush warmth beneath her toes. They dance together in his living room, her palm feeling his muscled shoulder move beneath his dinner jacket, his fingers caressing the spot where the plunging V-back of her gown makes a dagger point just above her waist. Cut away: they arrive late for a dinner party, she fixes his tie as they're announced, and you know what just went on between them. You don't have to see, you know, in the way they look at each other, their smile, their secret.
And where there are secrets, there is danger. You can't have people going around saying things. He has a name, a reputation, a position to protect. Where there's discovery, there is ruin. But she doesn't care, poor foolish girl. Let them say what they want, she tells him, they can't hurt her now. There will always be a way, she says, they belong to each other. In close-up, she stands on a terrace looking out over the rooftops, the taxis far below, Napoleon brandy wafting from her glass, a soft piano, the feel of velvet brushing her arm. In an Adrian gown with silk at the neckline, she catches her reflection, chestnut hair rimmed in gold, eyes glowing like hotel signs bouncing off rain-soaked pavement, eyes still full of possibility, poor foolish girl, and she has to smile. She belongs to her dreams now. She belongs to her life at last. Nothing can change that.
Now the moon has turned to silver / And the stars have gathered dew / Let's pretend our love can't end / And dreams will all come true
"So go ahead. Take it all. You think it matters to me? If that's all you think you came up here for, then take the money, the watch, all of it, what little is left. How far do you think it'll get you? Have the tux. It's out of date, but it should fit. Do you really think it'll last? Nothing you do can hurt me now. Because you can take it all and never have what I have. You'll never know.
It was a night exactly like tonight. The first time I looked out over all this. There I stood in another man's velvet robe. I could smell hot coffee drifting up from below, newspapers scattered across the floor, a soft piano coming over the radio. And I had to smile: 'My God, I'm her.' The scent of him lingering on my skin. My God, I'm here. In my life. Nothing else has ever been more than that moment. You'll never know. You couldn't. So take it, do your worst, I don't care. You can't hurt me now. Do what you have to then run back into the shadow you came from.
But first - one thing. Please. Come stand with me here. Look out over this city. Have you ever seen such a place? Come stand with me and hear it. Come look at that neon over the bar, let's read it in each other's eyes. Do you think you can do it? Do you think it's still possible? Let's try. Come stand with me. Try to imagine you belong here. I'll try to make you believe it, I promise. You and me. Just for this moment."
©1997-2004 Blithe House Quarterly : all rights reserved