Now watching a FedEx truck inch through a tight spot at the airport’s curb, I remember how the refrigerator supported me as I balanced on wobbly legs gulping down ice water, puzzled.
No mention of a check? So it wasn’t from Nanette.
Stumped; my question; Who else would send me a FedEx? was painfully replaced by ... Brain-freeze.. . “Awooh!”
Plopping the glass on the kitchen table I tightened, then un-clenched my eyes and teeth as, Wouldn’t you have it? someone knocked on the door.
My feet silenced by the diamond-patterned Berber rug, hands pressed against my temples, I managed the short distance from kitchen to living room, evading glass and iron side-tables and slip-covered chairs, down hallway, quickly, to crack open the door. I found myself extremely tickled by the sight of crisp navy slacks and tailored shirtsleeves, encircling a gigantic pile of UPS and FedEx boxes, standing at attention.
Unexpectedly, a pleasing smile and sparkling eyes played peek-a-boo around the parcels, as a girl’s, “I’ll be right back,” died down the hall.
Breathing deeply, while amazingly suppressing the laughter I smiled at the new face. “Thank you, thank you. . . .Come in and immediately turn right,” I managed from behind the door. My back pressed against the mirrored closet permitted only a partial opening. But despite this, he skillfully managed to maneuver himself and all inside.
“Could you please drop those on the table against the wall?” I asked.
“You mean right here?” a slightly nervous laugh trailed his question, as the scrape of glass against metal announced, “I’ve just run into your wrought iron table.”
“No it’s okay. And that’s perfect. I’m the one to be sorry. My packages are blinding you. They’re such a pain, I know. But thanks so much for bringing them up. I don’t think I could’ve managed them on my own.”
“No problem,” he muttered, adjusting the load.
I shut the door resting my shoulder against the door jam, wondering; maybe I should help, as he played at dropping packages. Letting him have his fun, I crossed my arms. I remember being happy that at least he didn‘t crack the glass.
Anyway, he finally slid the total bulk onto the table. After straightening up he turned towards me with a grin; asking, “Did you leave anything in the stores?”
I answered, “I hope not!” suddenly giddy; thinking: He’s cute.
“Hey! How about something to drink?”
It was funny how his whole demeanor changed. The happy disposition and disarming smile froze; then faded. Laughing eyes lost their life, while I felt my own face sink. His charming light vanished. Poof! Just like that; snuffed out. That dead wick left me a man-of-wax.
“Wait, what I mean is . . . do you want a soda? Coffee? I was just about to make some,” I said backtracking. “You can take it with you.”
Resolute and deliberate he walked towards me; so I reopened the door.
He did grant me a half-smile in response to my question; but, “No, thank-you. I’ve got to get back to work. Thanks anyway,” left his lips. He escaped with eyes avoiding mine.
Closing the door, I slumped against the frame, the wood cool to my back; not stifling: What just happened?
The ding of the elevator announced his departure, then after a moment it dawned on me.
Stupid. Did you forget Madame’s warning?
Frantic for company I forgot. Before leaving Chicago, she told me that a religious group now owned the hotel. “Their service is sacred to the young men, women and couples that work and live there, Diamond. Their life is devoted to their beliefs and their work.” Bottom line: Diamond, leave them be.
And I did. Usually I kept to myself. Though, to be perfectly honest, that day I would have loved a drink with that attractive guy. But honestly, I wasn't asking for a date. And really, I only offered soda, coffee, cocoa, or Kool-Aid, which didn’t constitute a date. So what was his problem?
Okay. So sue me; but he and my other neighbors intrigued me. So chipper and friendly. Always. All of them. Young, old, Black, White, Spanish . . . really. How was that possible?
“Nobody’s always happy,” I said loudly hoping they’d hear.
And that day provided the perfect opportunity to ask, since ordinarily my schedule didn’t allow for long conversations anyway.
And they owed me. I took their magazines. So there. Although, at first I only wanted to pacify them. Make them leave faster. But then I found I enjoyed the short articles. Especially the ones involving young people, current events and social issues.
But those thoughts got lost. I remember thinking: I could . . . . “Seriously use a sweater,” I said aloud, a quick chill causing me to shiver against the doorframe.
“Why is it suddenly so cold in here?” I asked, forgetting that I blasted the air conditioner on auto; and stood right under one of the vents. Turning to retrieve one from the closet, I recall facing the mirror and shouting, “You’re practically naked!” after my old-fashioned, “My goodness!”
Revealed? My body in black workout gear sheer and extra-clingy with perspiration. I short-changed nudity by a thin piece of spandex highlighting every crevice of my body. He probably thought I was trying to seduce him.
Facing the mirror straight on, absolutely embarrassed, I tried to justify. It’s okay, Diamond. You just forgot how you were dressed. He can understand that, can’t he? I reasoned, intent on getting warmer with a little drink.
Actually it was fine. Absolute. In fact, wasn’t it funny? I asked myself, forcing a giggle, though now a bit irritated, since I was in the privacy of my own apartment. “Look at me,” I said. “He could do worst,” twisting this way then that before the mirror; sliding my hands over my hips; exaggerating my movements, my head tilted to check out all angles.
“You’re hot,” I admitted.
I turned totally around clinching butt muscles taut, laughing angrily to the image of long spandex-clad legs and narrow waist. I said, “I know I look a little wild, but what can I say? I’d been working out . . . . And shoot me. . . .I forgot.” Any other normal guy would be happy for this opportunity.
Through my reflection I saw hair escaping its elastic band. Phony fun disappeared fast, when I remember how he actually looked frightened. Maybe more surprised.
I really had him running.
“You’d think he was married,” I griped; closing the closet door and finally turning away from the mirror. At least then maybe I’d understand his fright. Although, nowadays. . . .
“But I saw no ring,” I said.
Yes, if he were married . . . .okay, I’d back off—though I didn’t even pursue the single guy. I don’t usually have to; though if necessary he would’ve been a goner. But breaking up marriage “bonds” wasn’t my thing.
Isn’t that what they called it?
“Or was it ‘yoke’? . . . .Yeah, that’s it. A marriage yoke. Right?” Even then I allowed the word “yoke” to be a distraction. I recalled hearing something about this yoke and some other term in an elevator conversation. “What was the other word? . . . Oh yeah. I remember, ‘Unevenly-yoked’.” In hushed tones, some girls referred to someone’s marriage as being “unevenly-yoked.”
I wondered: what was that? Pictured eggs, a smirk tugging at my lips. My curiosity didn’t wait long before satisfied. My information source?
Prudence. Prudence Nobles. An elderly lady always present in our hotel lobby.
Yes. My dear friend Prudence Nobles.
At the time I didn’t know thy neighbor. This classy elderly woman clinging to a walker struck up a conversation with me, providing an opportunity to ask my question. Her strong southern drawl surprised me, since her sharp forty’s style brown suit with kick pleats suggested, “Bloomingdale’s,” promising a strong New York accent.
She wanted me to, “Think about the word ‘yoke’. Honey, what is it?” looking me square in the eyes with a watery stare. The self-same stare worms my insides even today. Yes, she helped me through a difficult situation. But her knowledge of that event left me exposed before her like the spread-eagled plucked chicken; with not enough wing span to cover my privates.
Anyhow, in answer to her question I said, “It’s food related, right?”
My little joke got her. She laughed a high tinselly laugh with a metal tone, not unlike a sleigh bell, following with, “Not in this case. . . .Do you remember old farm movies where farm animals wear a bar connecting them across their shoulders while they plow fields?”
“Yes, I remember scenes like that.”
“Well, honey, as you probably know already, that bar is called a ‘yoke.’ You always yoke animals equal in strength together. Never a bull and a donkey nor a horse and an ox. That would be cruel. . . .Well the same goes in marriage. Remember the words, ‘What God has yoked together let no man pull apart’?”
I nodded as she inched her walker towards the elevator line. I appreciated the principle; but come on. Did I need a lecture? Just answer the question!
“In marriage also, people need to yoke evenly to run smoothly. Similar goals; similar values. Darling, couples living here have the same religion. And that’s a blessing. For that’s one,” she paused to make eye contact, “major stress in marriage minimized. If you don’t want to be ‘unevenly yoked’, bound together unequally in religious beliefs, which of course causes awful chafing, it’s better and biblical,” she said with authority, “to marry someone with the same religious beliefs.”
We got on the elevator and she continued. “Honey, not to belabor the point, but the same applies to yoking friendships. Remember, ‘Birds of a feather.’ A dove cannot soar with an eagle without choking. . . .”
“Really? Are you sure?” I interjected nutra-sweetly, prompted into defending my set of friends. “As she evolves, maybe an eagle can take her to new heights.”
Madame obviously trusted my ability to handle myself. And I spotted Prudence’s destination. So I counterattacked, “Sometimes you have to give a little. You know. For the sake of friendship,” I concluded, not usually impertinent.
“Yes, giving is good. In any relationship concessions are necessary. But why should you make all of the concessions, especially since some heights are dangerous. A good idea, Diamond, Honey—she knew my name. If you find your personality changing for the worse, take note,” she said with that knowing stare before opening her apartment door. “Thin air makes people light headed. Someone taking you to heights obviously not good for you means that person may not be interested in your well-being. Yes, in life compromise is necessary. But don’t compromise good qualities or constructive personal goals. And, honey, you must have them or what good would you be? And you do have them. I can see them.”
Antsy, I knew she had a point; or rather she’d just made one. But don’t believe she stopped there. Prudence then went on to say something about a bible course or study, or something to answer any further questions; but I politely declined. Madame taught me to read the bible. She said every well-read person does at least once. But, I felt relatively secure in my own beliefs and behavior.
Well . . . at least before.
Anyway, that did raise the questions: Why Madame? Why here? Why in the world did you send me here?
After I struggled for an answer, I remember conceding: “Who knows,” to my reflection, my thoughts returning to the young man and Madame’s words, “The milk is spilled. Move on.” The reflection of packages on the hallway table helped.
Yep! The over-night letter.
Rushing to the table, I lifted one package after another, placing them on the hallway floor in search of the envelope.
Again, sorting through the stack of boxes and individual bags in reverse and in vain, I began the total process again, further annoyed by more knocking at the door.
Glaring at it a second, I wondered: Who is it now? considering the solitude of the past three weeks. Then self-conscious about my dress, I stepped back behind the door barely cracking it open.
Yes. It was him again—the young man, with a housekeeper at an angle behind him near the elevator, smiling.
“Hello again, Mrs. Duprey. . . .I’m sorry.” He slid the Federal Express envelope through the gap. “Earlier, I guess on the way up I dropped this.”
“Oh . . . oh . . . it’s okay,” I mumbled. Relief about the envelope stifled my surprise that he came back.
Pretty sure about his thoughts, with a subdued, “Thank-you,” I took the envelope, instantly deciding: Okay Diamond. Here’s your chance to clear the air. Take it.
“And about earlier? I’m really sorry.” Smiling sheepish I added, “I wasn’t thinking.”
“Oh, it’s no problem, Ms. Duprey. Everyone knows how nice you are; so I figured as much. We’re just glad to hear you’re up and about. Really, everyone misses your cookies.”
Really? They do?
Again he smiled, his “Have a nice day” sincere.
“You have a nice day too. . . . And again thank-you.”
Unfortunately, his second exit left my eyes blurry as I hurriedly shut the door; thinking: Diamond, don’t be silly. But, I missed her, the happy girl who baked for others, wondering: Where did you go?
Walking back down the hall, looking out of the window towards Lady Liberty, I sniffed, fighting the tears. I didn’t know why; but then, even looking out the window made me weepy.
What was up with that?
Anyway, I took a deep breath and rested against the beveled edge of the glass tabletop. My back supported by the mountain of packages, my excitement for the FedEx packet resurfaced.
Turning it over my mind bussed; “Okay, who is it?”
After one last sniff, I wiped my nose and split apart the perforated ridge. Reaching inside, I withdrew a floral envelope.
“Madame!?” I thought aloud.
But, it’s wasn’t. Both joy and the anxiety vanished in the non-recognition of the script. Although, I’d seen the handwriting before. The school-girl curlicues needled me.
Hey, maybe it was one of my old classmates, I thought.
Thrilled, I flipped the envelope. The turn and its revelation zapped my remaining energy. Unconsciously, I drifted towards the end of the moving treadmill; my hand fanned behind me to brace myself against dropping to its track as I stared down at the name.
Perched on the metal edge, I couldn’t stop myself mouthing again and again, “I can’t believe it.”
It couldn’t be, could it? I marveled, my fingers hovering over the name somehow afraid to touch.
“It is,” I whispered—what some would call a godsend—that envelope from Crystal. From Mom.
Maybe at first I thought it was. But then, I’ve had enough; I decided, after waiting and watching scores of families reunite. I didn’t come this far to be treated this way. If Crystal has a problem with me she’ll have to tell me to my face. I’m not running away anymore. And, if this is some sort of prank to antagonize me some more, it’s going to stop.
So with that resolution I boldly pulled my luggage ahead of a growing line of people waiting for a yellow cab. My stares dared them to mouth a remark as I permitted a half smile for the man hailing the cabs.
All the emotional drama I experienced after receiving that dang-blasted letter and this is how it’s going? A two-hour wait after beginning this journey arriving at New York’s airport two hours before. All morning traveling and she pulls a “no-show!”
Oh no! I thought.
After the driver shut the door and maneuvered his way out of the airport onto the highway I sat back drumming my fingers on top of my leather bag. A couples of glances in his rearview mirror had the driver fumbling for his earpiece. After a few red lights and the sound of his Arabic or Hindi tongue I returned to the letter recalling my amazement in receiving it in the first place.
Then I couldn’t believe it.
Crystal Knight contacting me? I thought.
I guess that feeling caused me to take that ride.
As I held the envelope, I remember the surprise of her even knowing how to find me. She contacted Madame? Amazing, also, her name, its power to jump-start my heart after years of inactivity. Already tense chest muscles tightened more; though I accepted it; welcomed it, because I believed in sweet pain; it existed, right?
That feeling proved it. Since what else could it be?
Though it felt a lot like fright, too.
But, why should I be afraid? followed the admission; although not ready to uncover the source of that confession.
I glossed over it; wondering instead: Why did we choose not to contact? Quite sure I probably knew the answer to that too. But, was it intentional by one or both of us, or just a fluke?
Anyway, was this really my chance? For redemption; I wondered; my lip clamped between my teeth.
Cradling the envelope in my lap, away from the tears, I sat cherishing the moment, still frightened by the reawakening until it hit me. A cup of coffee. That’s what I needed.
Savor this with a cup of coffee, I thought, bouncing up, fast feet carrying me to the living room to turn down both phone and answering machine for no disturbance.
Ah! Nothing beats traditional roast.
The bistro table and chair on my small patio overlooking the East River and Manhattan skyline supplied a perfect backdrop for that moment—On Top of the World. Though, there I settled among veggie death: dried-up bunches of basil, thyme and cilantro in small planters and large colorful mugs dying on a de-stressed baker’s rack, the wind rustling their shriveled leaves. Besides the herbs, fungi-infested tomatoes and withered flowers in terra cotta pots and ceramic bowls lined the brick wall.
The sad patio garden made one last plea, while I avoided promising one last time by simply saying, “Later.” Not heartless or indifferent about their state, just ecstatic about my rebirth, and curious.
Questions, like: Why Crystal? Why would you write me now? Is it bad news? demanded answers.
It must be bad news, I thought; with a rancid taste filling my mouth, souring my tongue. Cringing, I thought: Please, no bad news. Good news; it was to be; I was overdue.
Actually, any contact from Crystal was welcome, since, how long had it been?
A quick tabulation told me ten years. I was amazed. Ten years?. . . . Had it really been that long? I mouthed, my jaw I felt slacken. Time really did fly, though, I questioned, did it fly for her too? Although in retrospect, some years felt never-ending.
Anyway, I suspected, something must have happened. I hoped she’s all right. Slitting open the flap, I unfolded from the envelope the single sheet like someone savoring a gift package from a dear loved one. A faint powdery scent from the recycled light blue stationery with a blind embossed rose in its corner resurrected memories of quick sneaky snuggles into Mom’s neck. With slight butterflies I paused before reading, in case the news was bad; then read:
I know you’re shocked to hear from me after all this time, but don’t be angry. Forgive me. Please. I want to apologize. That’s why I need to see you. I know I shouldn’t ask, but could you come for a visit?
I haven’t been a good mother. I know. But I promise I’ll make it up to you when you get here. We’ll have fun, okay? Make up for lost time.
And Diamond, Steve died.
Shocked, I looked out towards Manhattan.
My throat quickly closed up; left me gasping, as I tried to accept, Steve died? . . . .Oh god, why Steve? while the skyline blurred. *
What was the matter with them? I wondered.
The laying on the horn irritated me; I could image the person in the car befo. . . .Wait a minute! I thought. . . . Everything was dark; though tinged with a red glow.
Why was that?
Straining, I still couldn’t see. I can’t see? I can’t see!. . . . .Oh no, I’m blind?
“I’m blind; I’m blind!” I screamed beyond panic-stricken, shaking; struggling to calm myself, mumbling; “That’s ridiculous, Diamond; you can’t be blind.”
Finally, I managed to force open my eyes ecstatic to feel and see sunshine as a few dead leaves spiraled about my coffee cup just beyond reach of my outstretched arm, numb, but with a letter lax between my fingertips. They began to tingle as I wiggled them.
Mom’s letter it dawned on me. I attempted to recall its contents, as I lifted my head, off the table?
Of course, I was on the patio.
Still a little confused, I wondered, what hap. . . .I fainted? I don’t faint. But that would explain the lightheadedness.
But what caused . . .? Steve. Poor Steve.
I let my head drop back onto my arm, allowing first tears, then silent dry hiccups to wrack my body until expended, as the laughter of children rising from the streets below and the chirping of birds above unsympathetically proclaimed, “Life goes on.”
Cursing my self-centeredness, I wanted to cut myself for taking Steve’s distant existence for granted. Knowledge of his gentle unassuming presence brought me comfort beyond belief.
Now what? I wondered.
I already missed his answers to future questions needing that “man’s opinion.” His person once breathed hope into my jaded heart that a man could honestly care for a woman over and above himself, not disserting her in her guarantee hour of need. Wheat to the ravenous; a savior was Steve for Mom. For me for a while. Now he’s gone?
I asked: Where’s God?
And if the ache was that severe for me, Mom must be devastated.
How did he . . . ?
Sitting up rubbing my eyes, I scanned quickly for where I left off:
Last month. He died last month, Diamond, after a long bout with cancer—Why was this the first I’ve heard of it? Did Madame know? I wanted to know.
It’s been very hard, but I’m making it.
Come for a visit, Diamond. Please. I really, really need to see you.
Please forgive me and love me a little,
My brain couldn’t compute: Love her a little?
Well honestly, until that day, it hadn’t dawned on me what I felt. That ache testified: I did, right?
And with the awareness came a blossoming memory of my childish adoration of her, a recollection that crumbled my pride. Ordinarily her delayed interest in me would be upsetting; but I guess we were both in need. Since Steve died she could use my support and I could definitely use hers. And who better than a mother and daughter to feel/fill each other’s need?
Plus, she wanted my forgiveness? Us together, . . .back in my old house? the return address stated, building lovely new memories?
Those imaginings—bitter sweet—zipped across my brain, my emotions a boogie-board skirting their shockwaves. Though one problem in particular concerning this trip loomed like a massive wave difficult to ride.
I sighed, taking a sip of coffee. . . .“Gross!” it was stone cold. Putting down the cup I named the barrier; “Madame,” as an Oops! had me wiping lackadaisically at the liquid rapidly disappearing into the spandex blackness of my workout shorts, while acknowledging that the hand gripping my heart Madame considered a hand from Hades—‘the grave’ I heard explained once. A hand whose ability to control lies she said, “In its petite size and deceptive softness.” To Madame who fought death and its accomplices tooth and nail my Mom was an accomplice.
“Crystal Knight means death, Diamond. Death to anything you value,” she said. “Be careful.” Only once spoken, never repeated, her feelings and actions towards Mom never changed. To me that confirmed she felt the same.
Though, really, Madame couldn’t mean death, could she? She meant jinx, right? That Crystal may be a jinx to happiness. Because, how could she cause death? I wondered. .And why would she say that to me—Crystal’s daughter?
For my life I didn’t understand Madame and Crystal’s relationship; rather their lack of one. Hatred between mother and daughter, what could be that serious? Hard feelings, maybe. But hatred?
Of course, Madame never admitted to that.
“Hatred.” Madame would say, “Undignified.”
But what else could it be? How can you almost shutter when you speak your daughter’s name or not wish for her existence and it be anything else?
However today, more than gaining the answers to those questions what I really want to know is: Will it actually hurt Madame by my being here? Wasn’t their feud too long ago to matter now? Madame won’t really think I’m disloyal will she?
I pondered the answers then too. Amid the sounds of a city alive: the long sad horn of a freighter on the river, garbage trucks emptying bins, and the occasional fire engine.
While rationalizing: But she’s my mother, I heard a faint musical chime, my cell phone in the apartment.
My goodness, I thought; I’d better get moving.
Rushing back inside, through the living room, down the black and white art emblazoned hall towards the bedroom to a loud cantankerous phone.
I figured, Nanette.
That thought about-faced me. Hurrying, I pulled back my image reflected in the walk-in closet’s mirror, though noting; I’m a mess!
Tearing off my work-out gear; letting them drop; I threw on a large tee-shirt. Then snatched all outfits and accessories off hangers and mannequins I believed were necessary to the actresses’ characters—a bass guitar player, a rock star’s accountant, a chef for a posh LA restaurant and a bored suburban mother of two. School friends determined to solve a murder mystery.
I collected vintage styles, trendy, sexy, even extras in classic business based on the girl’s measurements and current photographs, making several trips to toss the gathered items on my bed. Since one never knows what may work, I packed everything in two large rolling suitcases, piggybacking them for convenience.
Finally, I felt exhilaration; since earlier my world appeared murky. That meeting with Nanette hovered like low-flying pigeons, seemingly jokesters flexing their pigeon power overhead. Initially darkening my peaceful sky, afterwards I thought, it’ll be fun—the meeting, like playing “dress-up” as a child.
After a quick shower; feeling fabulous; I skipped about, singing repeatedly, “Fresh flesh, feeling fresh,” while sliding into my outfit of choice: The silk poet blouse, my favorite. Its cream color complimented a chocolate suede skirt, knee-length and fringe-bottomed, skimming dark brown leather granny boots heeled for presence. A thick braided leather belt hung off my hips finishing the ensemble.
“Ah, ain’t it funky now,” I chanted, dancing around, knowing that when I tossed on my matching suede trench, streamlined and awesome, hanging ready behind the hallway door, I would look and feel fashionably fabulous and comfortable. And all in the name of business.
My motto: If it looks good, great, I can sell it.
After flopping onto the living room’s golden-brown chenille sofa, I went through my mental checklist while packing my purse. Inventory finished, I called for the car service to drive me to Manhattan; then phoned Nanette, who picked up right away.
“Nanette Leon, speaking.”
“Hello, Nanette. I’m on my way.”
“Diamond, you psychic, I was just about to call you! You beat me to it. Great. The girls are already here. . . .See you in about twenty minutes,” she urged through my speakerphone.
“More like forty,” I retorted, since she lives on the Upper East Side on Central Park West and depending on traffic. “See you then.”
I hung up before I heard her “kiss, kiss.”
So it wasn’t her that called. Only a few had my cell number. I wondered: Then who was it? Not Madame?
Amazingly, guilt pounced, a lioness to devour me. Yet I defended myself. What did I have to feel guilty about?” I asked, since I hadn’t betrayed her. Two months and no word from her, what about me? My feelings?
But what about me? my mind redirected. Embarrassed by my previous prancing and suddenly uncomfortable with a present happiness, reality stated, “Madame may be dying.”
Pacing the hallway, I reasoned, but I’m not sure that she’s dying. All her private business she protected like armed soldiers guarding gold. So really, I couldn’t be sure. If she was why wouldn’t she just say so?
And I recalled, actually, the last time we talked she sounded pretty strong. So there was probably no need to worry. I believed: “That’s it!” She was calling with good news, and she would call me back.
Again the bedroom phone demanded my attention.
I yelled, “Madame!” rushing back, grabbing the phone.
Nanette sang, “Hello again. I just thought I’d mention to you that I’ve got that bonus check from your last job. I was very pleased, as you shall see. Shall we say, just a little more incentive for you before you leave? Kiss. Kiss.”
She hung up and I smiled.
Nanette. A shrewd businesswoman who demanded the last word.
I turned down the ringer; dropped my cell phone into my bag; plucked my coat from its hook on the back of the front door, and raced down to the hotel lobby; since the limo probably waited. Worry about Madame placed on a back burner.
Along with my luggage I juggled my baby, my saxophone; thinking: Finally, something to celebrate, excited about my return to Chicago.
Well, Mom, I thought. Here I come.
Now here I am, I thought.
Refocusing on the world outside of the taxi window, a glimpse of a gray-headed woman sitting on a porch, as we neared my old home, caused me to feel sad. After a second I knew why. The woman reminded me of Prudence. . . Good ole Prudence Nobles.
I should have told her of my plans.
I knew she would approve. And for some strange reason her approval mattered to me.
“So Grandma, where is that girl? You know. . . .the one that lives down the hall from you. The cool-looking one,” asks my granddaughter Cindy as we enter the near empty lobby; looking quite stylish in a modest pencil skirt and matching caramel jacket.
“Well, Honey, your cool-looking one, Diamond, has disappeared. And you know, I’m a little worried about her.”
“Why, grandma?” she asks, lightly grasping my arm to steady me.
Because she’s so young. And you remind me a lot of her, I want to say; instead thinking she's just like her name: Diamond—promising so much potential. But the beautiful end result takes a lot of work. . . . But with these young people today; they’re impatient. . . Well to be truthful, I guess we were too. However, I stay silent shuffling as fast as my old bones will only allow. And mind me that’s at no great speed. But I’m making it, I concede to myself; nodding to William at the front desk.
“Working late, William?”
“Just filling in for a buddy-of-mine.”
“That’s nice of you. You remember my granddaughter, Cindy?” his bright big smile confirming he had.
“Yes. Hello again, Cindy. Nice to have you visiting again. You staying long?”
Pushing her long brown-streaked hair behind her ear, she glanced over, “Not too long. Just the weekend,” she answered prettily.
“Well, I know you’ll enjoy your stay with that little woman there. We just love her,” he finishes just as a couple approaches the desk.
By this time, Cindy and I reach the same burgundy sofa on which Diamond and I sat before her exodus. Bracing my hand on the large rounded arm, I manage to make myself comfortable patting a spot close to me.
“Here, child. Take a load off and I’ll tell you about one night before she left. . . . Though, she did seem to be in better spirits then. Very talkative. That was unusual. Why I worry. Maybe after what I say you’ll understand why.”
I chose to stay in the lobby opposed to going to my apartment, because here Cindy can see and be seen by the many fine young men coming in from work or going about their other activities. Maybe then she won’t veer too far off, I think, watching her perch her tall slight frame on the edge of the sofa.
I really wish she would eat more, I think, as her sweet face waits for me to begin. So I oblige her.
“That night in particular Diamond lost her journal. A beautiful black leather book with gold edging and a red ribbon. She told me she always scribbled in it. And that night was my first and only time she allowed me to know what she wrote. In particular, about that evening. It was very sad, the little bit she quoted before she just really starting talking. And honey, like I said, that was unusual. Usually, she just smiled a lot. But for almost a month she had stopped smiling. So I made that opportunity to talk with her.
“That evening she talked in detail about feelings more than anything. Mind you, honey, what she felt could have originated from that cute little silver flask she carried. Every now-and-then I’ve seen her take a quick sip.”
“Aw, come on, Grandma. That’s not nice. You don’t know--’
“Don’t tell me. I’ve had my cataracts’ removed. And there’s nothing wrong with my sense of smell,” I say looking at her intently. “I’m no old fool. But anyway let me go on. I will try to tell you like she told me. And you know how good my memory still is.”
“That I do, Grandma,” she smiles. “That I do.”
“Here goes. Bear with me. Sometimes it got a bit flowery cause of her condition.
‘Seated on Fulton Ferry’s dock,’ she said, ‘her emotions dangled like the pen that usually hung from her fingers.’
“She said that!”
“She did and much more if you’d just listen.”
So I proceeded to tell her about that night; wishing that she could hear Diamond’s account as she spoke it.
» Diamond’s Account »
I wrote about the Brooklyn pier barge: Entry—September 1st:
I envy her character; tenacious and beautiful. Every night regal. Majestic. And tonight’s no different. She’s still majestic, though lonely. For tonight no pianist, cello player, violinist, or any that enrich with magical music she hosts. Despondent, since no enthralled patrons anchor her bulk against frothy waves thrashing her sides.
Glittery reflections cast down on the East River from cabled peaks prance behind her. Yet despite this dance; despite her moon-enhanced stateliness—made more by softly glowing street lamps, the only sounds she emits are mournful groans and agonizing grates from her weary body scraping the pier. Her wails trail one wave after another.
Yet, stalwart she sways. Eager for future encore performances.
Tonight I am the barge. Her loneliness is mine; though her constancy consoles me.
My pain she makes bearable.
Letting my pen dangle, I scanned the deck attempting to ditch the mood. And of course, the night defied me. It hated self-pity. Instead, the awesome dark-blue sky insisted on happiness; that quality of late escaping me quicker than boiling oil through a baggy. The evening commanded, “Enjoy the moment.”
Okay, okay! I’ll try, I sighed, watching them—romantic couples of varying ages, clothed in coats and scarves. They strolled the pier’s wooden planks, cuddled, arm-in-arm. Others, cozied against metal rails, unconscious of cold, or maybe even in warped pleasure of it, personifying “enjoy the moment”, . . .though, I noted, not alone. That was . . . .except for him—one solitary man sporting a tweed coat leaning against the guardrail, his coattail a flag in the wind. He gazed at the Manhattan skyline seemingly in deep thought.
But adjacent the pier, red and white-striped awnings flapped excitedly. Those sheltered joyful laughing people lingering at a river café, their voices amplified flung distorted onto the night air. Small white and yellow lights strung through the abundant trees bordering the restaurants’ walkway created a virtual wonderland. A scene set snug in the enchanted shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge.
I felt myself shrinking, then sliding, finally slipping into brain-dead. Not long; it couldn’t have been a minute before an uncontrollable trembling had me tugging the neck of my sweater up under my nose. Pounding—the waves or my nerves?—had me craving my apartment’s security; hoping for even a hell to break the on-coming spell. But as the water continued to slap the barge the expected heat glided through my veins. Apathy and its defeated slump actually fled my body.
Yes; it came.
Flipping, then re-flipping the pages of my journal past pleasant memories of Madame snagged on self-pity, unraveled reason revealing an irate reptile, her tongue poisonous. Its words toxic: Madame. If not for her.
I tried to shake it off with, come on, Diamond. If not for her?
But anger insisted, “If not for Madame, you wouldn’t have found Seneca. Then you’d have your self-worth. Now look at you. . . .you really are trash.”
Stretching sweater sleeves over fists balled instantly cold again, I asked aloud, “Am I? Madame, am I really? Do you think so?” wondering, and where was she anyway?. . . . Why wouldn’t she return my calls? Did she expect to force me into a relationship with Seneca based on desperate loneliness? Or was this silence part of her letting-go process?—my supposed warm bath into complete independence.
Well warm and soothing it wasn’t. It was cold and heartless! I wanted to shout. I wanted to scre—What the Dev--! hearing a thud—my journal hitting the dock. I choked clutching my mouth, my body rising off the bench as my chest heaved crazy rapid.
“I frightened you,” the young man’s voice, soft, confessed. “I’m sorry.”
Eyes piercing concern, his, “You okay?” did somewhat ease the coughing spasm wracking my body.
Through teary eyes, I recognized . . . The man in the tweed coat?
Battling for regular breaths, I watched him pick up my journal and gently dust it off. His dark eyes still focused on my face sent my eyes darting back and forth, skimming the wharf, thankful—we were not alone.
Under his constant scrutiny, thick brows drawn together, I perspired. Terribly good-looking, a Viking, a dark Viking, I was convinced I’d seen him before; not sure if I was comfortable with that knowledge. Seated so close, he must’ve seen me shiver as sweat slid down my sides.
Reaching inside his coat he removed a crumpled tissue; saying, “I saw you crying. . . .Here take this,” his voice Kahlua.
Slowly, I took the tissue; sat up straight, trying to pull myself together,. I noticed his cream pullover snug, tight and beautiful across his broad chest. It spoke: “Expensive,” revealed through the open trench. Something, maybe the color against his skin kept my heart rate on a pumping frenzy.
Focus. . . .focus on the tweed coat, I ordered, for it tweaked another memory, being more the style for an older man. So just how old was he anyway? . . . .Mid-twenties? I guessed while dabbing at eyes swelling and a nose dripping.
I managed to smile my “thanks,” speech impossible with his cologne, strong, exotic, totally familiar, driving me deliriously crazy. Fresh daisies in a sauna didn’t wilt that fast, I confessed, fighting for some logical explanation. Afraid and attracted, I thought, this is insane, shifting away from the strength of deep-set eyes, questioning. . . . What?. . . What do you want? Who are you?
Not strange, I felt Madame’s disapproval— my conscience? I imagined her irritated eyes reaming me due to my “apparent lack of caution.” Insidiously, I turned. I’m grown and on my own, no thanks to you, I accused.
I refocused instead on the Viking’s head covered by thick dark curls cocked; portraying worry. His gaze soothed me into forgetting briefly loneliness. Someone concerned about me was amazingly refreshing. Yet, he also made it dangerous. I envisioned a thundering waterfall as all my nerve endings tingled. Was it him or the mental sign flashing? warning: Slippery; revel with caution.
Okay, I thought. Ordinarily I was skeptical about men, especially a stranger, getting that close, so wonderfully close. But Madame hammered: Question motives.
All right. He's just helpful, that's all. And where are you anyway? I whined. I realized that I lived in a big city, so I must be careful. . . .But he was so attentive and handsome.
“Thanks for the tissue,” I said, the words barely a whisper.
“My pleasure,” his words, his eyes traveling my face. First to my eyes, proceeding to my nose; then lingering on my lips. . . On my lips. O my! They stayed there forever before returning to my eyes. I was transfixed.
I pried my hands from the rim of the bench, trying not to squirm, finally dropping my gaze to examine his dark hiking-boots. Hands smoothed the hair from my face.
His? I wondered shivering. Suddenly disappointed; recognizing . . .Mines silly! Though, partially grateful, since in his hands the pier might’ve turned into a porn-point.
Pulling at the bottom of my sweater, my feet stopping short of kicking make-believe stones, I scolded, get a grip, Diamond. You’re not sixteen anymore; you’re a woman. A grown woman.
So the glance beyond his shoulder showed me Manhattan. Stabilized me. With brief shifts to his eyes, I swallowed deeply; grabbed my bag; standing quickly, admitting; “I’m glad to know that caring people still exist;” again striving for dignity even as my head began to spin.
He stood wavering before me. Leaning towards me hand extended he asked, “You okay?”
“Yes. Yes,” I managed; waving away his offer; shaking my head; willing the dizziness to subside; horrified.
Good grief, Diamond.
“Yes. Yes, I’m okay,” I blurted out, groping, frantic for poise. “I stood too fast. . . . Thanks, though,” I ended stifling a major sigh.
His words, “You’re sure?” drew my eyes to his mouth; but, amazingly, that beautiful warm tone asking, “How about some coffee?” stiffened me to iron-man fierceness.
You think I need coffee? my mental question to his comment, “I could use the company,” which shocked, then dropped my head. I gulped my giggle. His statement and the sexy lift of his eyebrow made me feel foolish. Especially since, absolutely loving coffee, the offer appealed to me. But I couldn‘t. I wanted to say, “Sure; lets!” but, “I’m sorry I have to go,” came out instead. Small. Weak.
“I’m sorry too,” his amen.
I met his eyes head on, for a second, bold and deliberate. Then I bowed mine first. Though his image so beautiful and self-assured, with his hands in his pants pockets, a full head and shoulders taller than me was etched behind my lids. Creature worship. I admit it. I teetered on it. It was loneliness. It urged; act like a weak damsel. Why not? Look at him. He could be your hero—that modern-day pirate, freeze-framed with Manhattan a glorious backdrop. And you’re headed home; alone?. . .You don’t want to be alone.
Another glance showed him tilting his head. He grinned and I almost dove in, screaming; yes, you can come with me! Or I can come with you; or we can go together; whatever. . . . That vision of complete manhood with coffee promised excitement.
“Safeguard your heart,” I told myself.
“What did you say?” knotted his handsome features, his head tilted for my repeat.
“Oh nothing,” I replied sporting a plastic smile. Where did that come from? Stunned I said that aloud.
More than likely Madame. And then the warning, “safeguard your heart” resonated clearly in my ears, not-to-be-ignored, as my bag dragged like a sack of wet sand on my shoulder. I grinned regret, sheepish regret turning to leave him on the pier. That emotional baggage and nagging conscious were a major hassle.
“Thanks again,” I said, my step calculated and steady. Hopefully dignified. I resisted a final glance.
“Maybe another time,” trailed me as my thoughts regrettably returned to Madame.
Yeah, thanks Madame. Really. Safeguard my heart? From whom?
It should have been Seneca.
“Yes, I agree. It was some story, right? I worry because she spoke with feeling about one man sporting a tweed coat she had just met--”
“Doesn’t make sense, right Grandma? “ Cindy interjected.
“No. It doesn’t seem to. And remember she mentioned her body had uncontrollable trembles? A spell, she called it,” I emphasize by raising my eyebrows. “The cute little flask.”
“And she mentioned a ‘defeated slump,’” Cindy continues, disregarding my remark. “What is that?”
I pat her hand. “You know how you sit when you feel down and out.”
“Oh. Why not just say that?”
“Did you get the point?”
“Okay, then. I warned you ahead of time about her flowery speech. I tell you . . . .you young people,” I smile.
“You did. . . . and Grandma. Madame? Who is she and Seneca? . . . .She sounded so lonely. Though, I have to admit that it’s amazing you remembered so much detail,” my dear Cindy giggles.
“Hush. There’s nothing wrong with my memory,” I say, again patting her hand in mine.
“Cindy, do you remember that Diamond said she lost her journal, in the beginning of the conversation. She didn’t remember that she watched him pick it up. I wanted her to recognize what she said, but I also didn’t want to break her flow.”
“Oh, Grandma. . . . don’t you think he just forgot to give it to her?”
“That could be the case, my dear. But don’t you think he would also read it? Would she want that? Would you?”
“Oh, I see what you mean.”
“Alright. But Grandma, you never said who is Madame?”
“Honey, I can’t say for sure; but I think it’s her grandmother.”
“You‘re probably right. She sounded like a grandmother,” she says giving me her mischievous grin.
“Well thank you, dear. And she sounded like a granddaughter with her, ‘I’m grown.’”
“I’ve never said that!”
“I know. But many children and grandchildren do. And I especially hope never to hear the rest of her words from you.”
“‘No thanks to you.’”
“Never. Though, Diamond’s ‘Question motives,’ sounds familiar.”
“It should,” I emphasize by smoothing her thin fingers and staring intently into her brown eyes. “Question motives mostly and especially of strangers. And definitely in romantic settings. Remember also her words, ‘Safeguard your heart?’”
“Yes. ‘Safeguard you heart’ sounds like you too, Grandma. But she mentioned it in regards to Seneca. Who’s Seneca?”
“Honey, I don’t know yet. But I plan to find out. . . . In the meantime, my dear, help an old lady up. . . . Yes, that’s a dear. You really are a sweet child.”
“Grandma. The way you told that story, I bet she was you when you were young, wasn’t she?”
That question brings a smile to my lips. “At one time a long time ago I may have felt that way. But, to be perfectly honest, you know that phone you gave me?”
“Well that recorder came in handy,” in a hurry to finish because of her shocked, “You did that? Why, Grandma?”
“I didn’t want to miss anything of what she told me. . . . But I immediately erased it.”
Immediately meaning after replaying it a few times that evening. I continue more slowly, “She reminds me of you. And I want to understand everything you say too. But with you I can ask you to repeat yourself. With her I couldn’t.”
“Oh. I can understand that. But I would hope you would ask me first.”
Duly chastised, I watch Cindy glance towards the door.
“Grandma, where do you think she went?”
“Honey, I wish I knew. But at least she seemed happier when she left. Though even that kind of worries me too.”
A little peek into their thoughts is always helpful.
Diamond’s last Journal entry was dated September 1st. Three days ago:
My pain she makes bearable, I reread. . . Hm. So she’s lonely. . . Well, Diamond. Don’t be lonely.
I really want to throw my head back and laugh because of my good fortune. But someone may be watching.
Diamond, I’m here for you.
And she didn’t even miss it; that’s how good I am; looking down to her journal hanging loosely like it belongs to my gloved hand. . . Women are so vulnerable. Imagine me writing this crap for someone to get a hold of.
If she shows up, I'll just tell her that I was hoping she'll come back so that I could return this.
Usually, Diamond’s pretty predictable. She loves her music, her job, and her place, and this spot.
It is Thursday? I second guess, glancing at my watch.
Barge Music Thursday. She’d never miss. She loves this stuff.
Well, dear Diamond, you’re late, I think my foot tapping of its own accord. One more casual glance around, the sparsely occupied pier, then I’m gone. . . Not among the Asian wedding group to the left. . . An old lady and . . . .um. . . .a good-looking young thing escorting her. Both crossing the small bridge onto the barge.
But not Diamond. . . I know I didn’t miss her. . . I’m sure, nonchalantly leaning against the railing. I was here when the guest trio arrived.
Probably wants to play there one day I bet, feeling my chin lift in its direction, as if explaining to someone. Takes after her old man, I guess, noticing a guy about his height exiting the small bridge after helping the old lady.
Just trying to impress the old bird’s—my guess, granddaughter?
From behind dark sunglasses I take a long hard look down Front Street past the huge white building always changing ownership, for someone resembling Diamond.
Alright. . .Another look up Old Fulton Street. . . Don’t worry Diamond. You’ve only escaped me twice. . . But three’s to your harm.