Venus 2/3

Living the Blues

Eileen does. It’s become a habit – like cigarettes. And, like cigarettes, the pills she takes now and then only grease the wheel of her depression.

Of course she never admits to it. People of her generation hate to show signs of weakness. They stay on top of things by denying that the gravel is spinning out from under their feet. Until they’re treading air.

Karenska updates me. She’s not sleeping, she says. She’s off and on the drugs. She won’t listen.

We both know the reason: Eileen hates herself. From the instant she let a stranger take me away. It doesn’t matter that she was too young to be a mother at seventeen. It would have meant being a wife, too, since it was unthinkable taking on a child on your own. Whether she loved Lennie or not was beside the point: she wasn’t ready.

Things like that can define a life, fix it in the sky like a frozen star. My mother has been dry ice since that moment of surrender, and every man she’s been with has taken a cue from her blue breath.

Have I escaped the ice? Mostly. The blues need space to slip in, expand. I learned chess from an early age, how to fortify a gap, drain the sacs of air. I too have acted on “necessity”, leaving loved ones.

Unlike her, I’ve found a way to make peace with myself.

It’s easier than living the blues.

Dancing Sinatra

I have to pinch myself. Here I am, about to knock on Frank Sinatra’s door at 2am. I don’t know what to expect. No, I do know what to expect, but I’m still here!

He’s promised me the last dance. In his room. The top floor in the Ritz Hotel. Will there be room for the band, too, or will we hum a slow dance cheek-to-cheek?

I put my ear to the door and hear…nothing. Is that a good sign?

When I knock, a tall man opens the door. He’s a bit of a grease-ball, very handsome and muscle-bound, but he’s not Frankie.

I look around him, into the dim.

‘Come in, Miss,’ he says politely. ‘The boss is expecting you.’

‘Where is the boss?’ I ask, wondering if this is Frankie’s room at all.

‘On his way,’ the man says, walking inside. ‘My name’s Reg. I’m to look after you until he gets here.’

‘And how long is that likely to be… Reg?’ I say, following him.

‘As long as it takes,’ he says. ‘Hungry?’

There’s the faint smell of Italian food lingering in the air.

‘What’s that smell?’ I ask.

‘Eggplant Parmigiana,’ he says. ‘Frankie made it, especially for you.’

‘Oh, really,’ I say. ‘And when would he have done that – between acts?’

‘This morning,’ Reg says, trying to stifle the grin. ‘Don’t know how he knew you was coming but he did!’

‘Lots of garlic?’ I say, playing along.

Reg rubs an imaginary bit between his thumb and forefinger. ‘Only the smallest bit, in the tomato sauce. Frankie’s a genius with Parmesan!’

‘I’ll bet you say that to all the girls!’ I say.

‘Only the ones he cooks for!’ he winks. ‘Want some?’

I nod and sink into a chair. It smells like perfume. Fresh perfume.

He was right about the parmigiana. Two glasses of champagne later, still no Frankie, and Reg is getting very friendly.

‘What if Frankie comes in?’ I say, trying to hold him off.

‘Something tells me,’ Reg murmurs, ‘that he’s been held up. But I can pass on the good word for you – in the morning.’

By then, I was so tired that, Frankie or Reg, it hardly made any difference. And Reg didn’t seem to mind the garlic on my breath.

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