Beautiful singer, beautiful voice, great song – what a combo.
Beautiful singer, beautiful voice, great song – what a combo.
(I’ve continued this tale but in an interesting way – just adding a few lines at a time when idling away time in a coffee shop. I’ve then emailed them to myself and edited it at home later on. It’s quite hard to remember where I was going with the tale because days can pass in between writing. You’re have to read the two earlier episodes for it to make sense. Even then…)
‘Yeah, and I just stuffed the wife up the chimney.’
‘I mean, he bled out all over the $20 fake Persian I got from Dirk down at the market on Lutton and 14th.’
‘Least you’ve not wasted bucks there.’
I smiled broad, liking the sharp mind of this girl. She was wasted smiling clothes at dollar-loaded prices to housewives and teenage brats.
‘I mean it, Robert. He came at me, bread knife, would you believe it? I stuck him with the screw driver.’
‘You tell a good story, maybe you should write, not sell coats and jeans.’
Lilly reached out, fingers grasped my jacket collar.
‘I mean it, I killed Steve. Know any good stain removers for carpets? Or any clever lawyers?’
I felt my life stick in my throat.
‘You’re not fooling, are you?
Lilly shook her head, pursed her lips.
‘He was high, been hitting the cocaine since Saturday, he wanted more.’
‘Call the cops? Paramedics? Stop the bleeding?’
‘Why? He might live.’
My hand froze inches from my drying lips. Lilly’s repartee was too good, too sharp. She sounded real. Which meant..?
‘You’re not playing around, are you? Your husband’s dead. At home. Right now?’
Lilly nodded. My life teetered on the edge of an abyss. Walk away, Robert, walk away. But my legs didn’t move. Lilly leaned closer.
‘So, how’d I get rid of it?
‘Tell the cops. Say he attacked you. If he was into drugs you’ve an excuse. A lawyer can use it to dig you out of any hole you’ve excavated by delaying.
‘But I don’t want a shit time in my life, Robert. Get rid of him, and I tell everyone he split on me, my life goes on, with you, maybe?’
I swallowed my rye in one. I bought the girl a coat. She offers me a drink. I think I hit the jackpot. Now I’m a potential accessory to murder or similar.
What happened to the little shop assistant, the one I never dreamed in a million years would go for a drink with me? She’s killed her husband?
‘Yeah, well, no-one’s what they seem, are they?
‘No, I bet you got secrets. Don’t you?’
‘So there. You got five wives, or a jail sentence, or three children by different women. I got a dead husband on the carpet.’
‘Only in the breathing department…’
I sighed. All around life went on; smiles, touches, innuendo, love. Who knew what each had left behind in their houses and apartments? How many had a dead body on the carpet? Literally or figuratively. And each minute we sat here the body hardened, as did our options.
Our options? Had I made a decision?
‘Call the cops.’
Lilly stared me straight. I could almost read the letters spelling disappointment in her pupils. She gathered up the jacket she had removed in the humid atmosphere.
‘Guess I got you wrong, Robert.’
‘Guess I got you wrong too, Lilly. I thought you sold coats.’
Lilly looked at me, turned and disappeared among the crowd of happy drinkers who didn’t have a dead body at home deterring would-be burglars.
I caught up with her on the sidewalk outside the Four Feathers. My hand touched her shoulder. Our second contact.
She spun, alarm for a moment etched on the prettiest face I’d seen in many a month. Perhaps she’d thought I was a cop offering a clean-up service for blood-stained floor coverings.
‘Okay, Lilly. Let us go see the damage. Then decide.’
‘Robert, I knew you would, just knew it.’
Her head buried itself against my biker jacket. Our third contact.
Lilly had an apartment close to her work, a fourth floor four-room basic layout. It must’ve been crowded with a husband. Maybe that’s why she killed him, to get more space.
Noises echoed from closed doors in a corridor cleaned once a year when the cockroaches threatened legal action against the landlord. Televisions coughed up Kojak loving you. Radios sang sweet dreams from ruby red lips as wide as the Mississippi. Was a life decomposing yards away?
Lilly stopped outside number seven. She looked at me, drew a deep breath, slipped a key into a scratched lock. She said nothing; her eyes spoke a noir novel as black as the depths of the Styx.
Air wafted, perfume and takeaways mixed with a side aroma of alcohol.
Lilly glanced left.
I hoped I’d see a carpet laying lonely. It wasn’t. It was embraced by six feet of thickset cowboy. Red check shirt, faded blue jeans greased irregular, and shiny brown boots wrapping ankles up warm. Shame an artist had thrown blood red liquid over the shirt and jeans. Real blood too.
‘Jesus. You weren’t kidding.’
‘Heck of a way to get you back to my place if I was.’
‘Yeah. Now what?’
‘That’s my question, you’re meant to answer it.
‘I forgot, I’m playing the pa-knows-all role here.’
‘What’d we do?’
(written from the warmth and comfort of a coffee house upon a cold market day)
nine of the morn,
flowerpots lined up,
ready to go over the top;
vegetables boxed side by side,
ammunition to gain a profit,
primed and prebagged;
tent tops arrayed as generals’ hats,
colourful and ignored;
shoppers fast-pacing to other fronts,
cursory glancing with hands firmly pocketed,
idle eyes idling,
frozen children handpulled to appointments unknown,
coffee shop voyeurs watching the unbloodied battlefield;
handbags for sale swing in line,
like neck-wrung turkeys,
mute falling for a shoulder to cry on;
rugs ready-rolled awaiting a floor to sprawl upon,
bulk-bought books cover-flapping to gain attention,
fresh-baked bread and cakes inch by minute towards their expiry,
devil-eyed seagulls eye up that time arriving,;
hoodied heads wander on,
acknowledging not the sacrifices ready to be made.
(Just continuing this opening, and giving you three alternative endings which would lead on to three quite different stories/novels.)
What to wear to a bar named the Pink Feathers? Did the name hint at the clientele to be encountered? I went biker jacket and black jeans. Good call. The three foot wide guy guarding the door would have bounced me off the sidewalk in anything else; the ‘four feathers’ were painted on the club’s logo atop a dancing girl with curves Monroe defined decades past.
Inside masses mingled. By the time I made the counter I’d rubbed shoulders, literally, with more people than I would in a month of Christmas sales throngs. Ages varied; breaking teens to broken fifties. Encouraging. I hadn’t wanted to seem cradle-snatching if Lilly the shop assistant turned up.
8.20 p.m., I’d got here late, lost myself on a freeway to anywhere out of town. Now I searched with eyes wide. Ten minutes, or Lilly might do a glass slipper thing on me. And I wasn’t a prince, I couldn’t spend Sundays putting shoes on every female this side of the Hudson.
A voice connected over the hubbub of nonsense deafening my ears.
‘Just in time, Lilly. Got lost. Story of my life.’
‘Getting lost or nearly getting lost?’
‘Still trying to work that out.’
‘Sure, that’s why I came. Claim the free offer.’
‘Not because of me then?’
Lilly looked blank. She wasn’t acting it, she seemed surprised I hadn’t said she was the reason. Her hair hung straight now, fresh washed and smelling sweet among the stale breaths and alcohol. She matched me in a leather jacket and dark jeans. Discounted from the store? Little make-up hid her face; she looked even younger than in the blazing lights of her workplace.
‘And you. I’ll take a rye and soda.’
‘Biker jacket and rye? Reliving your teenage years?’
‘Ouch, below the belt, Lilly.’
She smiled lazy.
‘Looks good on you, the jacket, hope the drink does too, paying for a taxi home isn’t part of the offer.’
She squeezed through to the bar, bought the drinks, a gin and something for herself, I think. I rescued the glasses on her return trip as two floppy-haired twenty-something guys fell across her path.
‘It’s quieter by that alcove.’
She nodded left. I held the glasses high to get through, found stools and perched the drinks on a shelf showing football stars with toothy grins and muscles to measure.
‘You’re not wearing the coat?’
‘Too warm in here, but I’ll put it on to go to work tomorrow. Thanks again.’
‘Something you do every day? You a millionaire?’
‘Ah no, so if you’re looking for a sugar daddy, try the best suited guy in here instead.’
‘I don’t want to be kept by any man.’
‘But you accepted my offer?’
‘It didn’t seem like something you usually did.’
‘How could you tell?’
‘I guess if you’d come in and thrown a pile of cash on the desk, or bought up the whole rail of coats.’
‘Maybe I didn’t want to overwhelm you?’
‘I don’t think you’ve ever done that sort of thing before.’
‘Your eyes. They were too alive. A wealthy guy used to throwing money around would have had a tired look there, or a regular ‘just another little person to help’ and make me feel good.’
‘So why’d you think I did it?’
‘Either you hoped it’d lead to something more. Like this. Or your tongue was ahead of your brain. You write?’
‘Ouch, shot me down in one, straight between the eyes!’
‘You’re a writer?’
‘Ha, no, not really. I don’t earn money from it, I tap keyboards, make up tales now and then.’
‘You sure? I’m not gonna appear in some sordid novel? I’m not a kind of experiment?’
‘Hell no, I’d never do that to you.’
‘Why not? You don’t know me? Do you? We’ve never met before?’
‘Never. I’ve been in the store a couple of times, never seen you in there.’
‘You tried this on the other girls there?’
‘So why me?’
‘As you guessed, just went with the moment. None of the others ever said ‘It’s cold today, isn’t it?’’
Lilly drank long from her glass, her eyes fixed on mine. There was noise and movement all around yet it seemed we existed in isolation, unhearing, unaffected by everything else.
‘And I’m enjoying the free drink you offered, so all’s well.’
‘A $99 drink?’
‘I hope that’s not how you see it.’
‘And how does this end?’
‘A polite thank you maybe. A shake of the hands. Or…’
Lilly’s voice dropped low, her guard came high.
‘Or…we live happily ever after.’
I smiled, and couldn’t help breaking into a laugh as Lilly’s eyebrows shot skyward and she snorted liquid.
‘Being silly, I guess. Make a great tale to tell our grandkids though.’
‘Lol, we got grandkids now.’
We both laughed. Her face blushed, her eyes sparked. I noticed for the first time the slight gap between her front teeth. She flicked a loose strand of hair away, waved her glass side to side.
‘No, you’re paying for this one, Robert.’
She took the glass from my hand. Our fingers grazed. The first time we’d touched. She took a step away then turned back.
‘While I’m getting these…I think you’re an intelligent man…see if you can think how I can dispose of my husband’s dead body. It’s lying on the carpet back in the apartment.’
‘While I’m getting these…I think you’re an intelligent man…see if you can work out how I divorce my husband…without him putting me in the morgue first.’
‘While I’m getting these…I think you’re an intelligent man…see if you can write the next chapter of our relationship…I want to know if the book’s worth buying.’
(Long time no write here. Been busy with life, no time or desire to write. Here’s something anyway, just a start, based on a real moment. Well, the opening four lines…)
‘It’s cold today, isn’t it?’
‘Yeah, forgot my gloves too.’
‘Remembered mine, but I was still freezing.’
‘If you get cold, at least you got a choice of clothes to wear here.’
I nodded towards the racks of women’s coats strung like dead turkeys along a metal bar.
Can you fall in love over such a banal conversation?
The shop assistant checked her screen. Blue eyes flicked left, right, up, down, wavy light brown hair braided at the sides, purple tipped fingers stabbing. She looked up, saw the coats I’d indicated.
‘Oh, they’re too expensive for me.’
A light chuckle crept nervous up her throat. Her eyes glanced mine. I waved a hand at the racks of clothes.
‘Choose one, I’ll buy it for you.’
Her chuckle broke surface into a quiet laugh. Saturday 9.10 a.m. it wasn’t ready for head back raucous.
‘I mean it, choose one.’
She folded her arms, looked more direct at me. Movement to her right suggested a junior had found my click and collect order in a backroom.
‘Sure, choose one and you’ll pay for it?’
‘Yes, then I’ll give it to you. Be quick, the offer expires in about one minute.’
My heart was calm. Strange, it should have been stretching the fabric of my jacket to its limit. Half asleep still on a weekend morning? Still daydreaming the reckless character I’d read about the last two days in a hard boiled crime paperback?
The young woman stepped out from behind the desk, half halted, low heeled loafers scuffing the vinyl tiled floor. She moved on, more determined, fumbled coat hangers, found the size she wanted, slipped off the fake fur collar coat from the hanger, put it on.
I held out both hands like a seasoned salesman.
‘Perfect fit. Would madam like it gift-wrapped, or in a bag, only 20 cents extra?’
That gravel chuckle coughed up again. She stuck her hands into the pockets of the suede coat, pouted in doubt. At the coat choice or my offer, I wasn’t sure.
‘Here’s your order. Perhaps we should deal with that.’
She walked back behind her screen, took a bright yellow bag from a colleague who eyed up the coat with a quizzical look, and typed fast as she studied details on the package’s label.
‘Here you are. Robert?’
It was a curious routine of this store that they checked you were the right collector of a delivery by querying your first name not your surname or email address or card number.
‘That’s me. You are?’
I screwed up my eyes at the woman’s badge which hung on her chest. She probably thought it was part of my feeble act of chat up, but truth was I needed to, to make out the small print on the white shiny piece of card.
‘Lilly, is that?’
‘So, you want that coat? The offer’s close to expiry…’
‘If you’re serious, that’ll be $99, please.’
I took out my wallet, thumbed a credit card, passed it over. I’d felt Lilly’s eyes on me as I did this. She was still looking at me as her small fingers accepted the card.
‘You absolutely certain?’
She passed the card machine across. I placed it on the desk, tapped in my numbers.
‘You can change it for another colour, or another style if you want?’
‘And you can cancel your card payment too.’
‘No, the coat’s yours. It’s my good deed for the day.’
‘Oh, I’m a charity case now, am I?’
I gave a half-laugh.
‘No. It makes me feel good. And, you’re pretty and charming and, and, just nice. I, I, just felt it was the right thing to do.’
Lilly slipped off the coat, folded it into a bag and hung it on a peg behind her. She turned back, her face more serious.
‘That’s it? No follow up, no, ‘well, let’s have a drink later’ or ‘what time do you finish today?’
I shrugged my shoulders.
‘Coat’s yours. No catch.’
She crossed her arms again. It seemed to be her standard stance; maybe at work, maybe in life.
‘You bought me a coat. I’ll buy you a drink. Okay?’
‘You don’t have to.’
Lilly’s eyes moved to the right, she nodded to acknowledge someone’s words or gesture.
‘I got to go. I’ll be in the Pink Feathers, Cambridge and 222 Loxx, tonight, around 8.’
‘If you want a drink, that’s where I’ll be.’
‘Sure. I can, can probably make that.’
I had an image of me standing like a fool, holding a glass of iced orange, alone in a crowded bar of couples, waiting for the no-show sales assistant.
‘Have to check with the wife first?’
‘Don’t be late. Offer expires at 8.30.’
Her eyes flashed. She scooted around the desk and disappeared among the hanging jeans and jackets.
‘Sunday in the park, I think it was the 22nd of October…’
You can see what I’ve done there, if you’re into your Chicago tunes from the 70s.
9 a.m. and just a few walkers and joggers were around, a beautiful alternative to the seafront for an early morning walk.
And it you don’t get the Chicago link here’s the song…
Listen and then just let the autoplay go on to endless Carpenters’ songs. There’s nothing better to either uplift you or put you into the perfect mood for whatever type of writing you are undertaking. Karen Carpenter – what a magical voice.