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  The Loose Fish Chronicles
  Excerpt From a Memoir in Stories  by Beverly A. Jackson
 
  •  The Green Dress — 1960
    Fancy Soaps — 1961
  •  Dreams and Dreads — 1961
  Sleeping With Marilyn —1961
  The Bermuda Triangle — 1963
  Old Bucks and New Wings — 1964
 
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Sleeping With Marilyn — 1961

“Whichever bonehead just touched me, cut it out!” The acoustics of the large moving elevator make my voice sound high-pitched and breathy.

Sniggers ripple through the car as the doors slide open onto the lobby. “Hey, keep your paws off Marilyn,” a voice in the back wisecracks. I feel a flush rise in my face. Over my shoulder, I see a co-worker from my own department, in the back with a smirk on his face. The mostly male herd spills across the marble foyer and out into Fourteenth Street foot traffic.

“Sperm trying to outrun each other,” I mutter.

The first snowfall of 1961 powders the New York City twilight as I step out in suede, high heeled boots. At least I’m not wearing my new ones, I think, pulling my coat collar up.

“I don’t know how you tolerate those animals,” someone behind me says. His voice is low and rich. With his discernible lisp, he sounds like a woman with an interesting past. I turn as he catches up, walking in step, and we keep walking in the cold toward Hudson Avenue.

He is a small man, no taller than I, wearing a camel colored coat with raccoon fur collar and cuffs. He walks in short, prim steps, though there’s a natty cut to his clothes. He looks nothing like the young buttoned-down engineers, in their cheap wool overcoats and heavy Oxfords, at the Port Authority extension where I work.

“Aw, they don’t bother me,” I say. “I’m just in a mood tonight.”

His face is arresting, almost beautiful, with dark olive skin, baby smooth with no five o’clock shadow. Huge almond shaped eyes, moist and chocolate-colored, overpower a large Roman nose. He might have stepped off an El Greco canvas. Under streetlights, he looks older than me, perhaps mid-thirties. His bald head, above his high forehead, is fringed in a neat horseshoe of black hair. “Who are you?” I ask.

“Franco Olivetti, from the sixth floor.”

“No kidding?” I thought I knew the face of every draftsman on Six. They check me out often enough when I walk up the aisles to deliver pay envelopes to the floor managers. “Are you new?”

“No, no,” he says. “I’m part of the furniture by now. But I sit hidden behind that partition in Dan Horton’s office. I’m his secretary. For years and years, and loathe to admit it.”

“Secretary!” My eyes widen. I never knew there were male secretaries.

We reach the corner of Hudson Avenue and wait at the light. Snow falls in lacy flaps that stick to our coats and eyelashes.

“I see them bother you all the time. It’s not right.” Franco sniffs and tilts his chin up.

“It’s not a big deal,” I say . “I guess I’m used to it.”

“They think you look like Marilyn, that’s why.” Franco swipes the top of his head quickly.

The snow falls faster, and the sidewalks, stenciled with footprints, are beginning to puddle with slush. “They’re right, you know, but it’s no excuse for not being gentlemen,” he says.

“I wish! I don’t look at all like her. It’s just the blonde hair.” The catcalls and whistles, and whispers in the halls can be annoying, but if I’m honest I like the attention. And any girl in New York City with the right hairdo can pass for a stand in.

“Well, you’re every bit as glamorous.”

“Thanks.” His compliment pleases me. I want to be glamorous and sophisticated. I hate being a nothing.

“You must live near here,” I say.

“100 Christopher. Been there nine years.”

“Christopher Street? Near Stefan’s? My favorite restaurant.”

“I dine there regularly, it’s next door,” Franco says, smiling.

“Well, I moved from the East Village a few weeks ago—but I spend all my time on the west side anyway. I have a little studio here on Horatio Street.”

We are in front of the No Name bar.

“I sort of hang out here.” I say. “I used to go to the Bistro, but this is fine.” I think better of explaining that my best friend is no longer speaking to me and her boyfriend owns the Bistro. “Would you like to join me for a cocktail?”

“Thanks, but better not.” Franco glances uneasily through the plate glass window at the crowd. Music from the jukebox floats out on the evening air. Billy Holiday purring “Ain’t Nobody’s Business.”

“I think I’ll just go home to my book and my hi-fi,” Franco says. “This music gives me fits.” He shrugs apologetically.

“Oh, you’re a reader? Good, let’s talk books! Nobody I know talks books with me, come on in. You’d be doing me a favor.”

“Sorry. I’m not much for saloons. But thank you. I’d better get going.”

I fake a little grimace. Hesitating in the doorway of the No Name, I watch Franco Olivetti make his way through the snowfall. Queen of the Secretaries. He makes me smile.

Through the glass door I search for Peter, my last brief boyfriend, at the bar. I don’t want to run into him again.

Franco is almost to the corner. I let my gaze follow his jaunty walk. He turns and gives me a wave, and then stops.

“Hey, Marilyn, maybe we can dine together some time,” he calls, his dark eyes dancing in a shaft of blue light from the deli’s neon.

“How about tonight?” I say. I start walking toward him.

The top of Franco’s balding head, furry collar and shoulders are iced with snow. His face breaks into a smile. “Now? How about Stefan’s?” he says.

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Seated in a back booth, in the amber candlelight of the restaurant, we share a bottle of house red, and order Steak Diane. We exchange thumbnail biographies. He, Italian, raised in Brooklyn by an elderly aunt and his mother, both now deceased; his overweight father dead of heart failure at an early age. Me, English and French, precocious, father dead in World War II, the only child in a military family, abused by a tyrannical stepfather. We make jokes about the pains of childhood, neuroses and the high cost of shrinks.

“Where’s your family now?” he asks.

“Michigan. They were in Spain before that.”

“Do you see them often?”

“No, but my mother calls when she’s drunk. And Pete called a few months ago in the middle of the night. He said the Base was on full alert and that I needed to get out of New York City NOW.”

“Why?” Franco’s eyes widen.

“Apparently that Bay of Pigs invasion. I guess we were close to war. He couldn’t tell me why at the time, but that’s what Mama said later. It was top secret. I thought he was just talking crazy or possibly drunk.”

“I know nothing of politics,” Franco says.

“Well, me either! I just hung up the phone and laughed. I’m not going anywhere. Even if I had known, I wouldn’t have left. If Cuban missiles hit New York City, I wouldn’t want to live through what was next, anyway.”

“That’s what’s nice about New York. It is the beginning and the end of the world, isn’t it?” He smiles and winks.

“Tell me what you’re reading right now,” Franco says.

“No, you first,” I say. “I bet you’re an egghead, right?”

Franco shakes his head. “No, I read everything. I’m partial to Capote and Durrell, but right now it’s Henderson the Rain King, by Saul Bellow.”

“I haven’t heard of that,” I say. “Goodbye Columbus is a new one I got. It really makes you think. Do you know it? “

“What’s his name? Roth? I haven’t read him, but it got good reviews.”

I shrug. “Yeah, a little too close to reality though.”

“How’s that?” Franco says, putting his fork down.

“Oh, just makes you wonder, that’s all.” I can feel the wine taking hold. “His characters live these mundane lives—sort of like mine. I thought things would be different when you grow up. But we’re all screwed up forever, I guess.” My eyes fill with tears, and I reach quickly for my napkin.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t drink so much vino,” I say.

“If you want to talk, I’m a good listener,” Franco says.

I take a deep breath. “You know what? I think I’d better go home.” I quickly pull some money from my bag. “I’m just tired.”

Franco nods solemnly, pushing the money back at me. “I hope we can do this again.” I’m soothed by his sincerity.

Do I hear a twinge of longing in his voice or am I listening with my own loneliness?

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My ruined boots sink into fresh snow and more floats in thick profusion, stronger than before. I want to walk in it. Not that I could find a cab in this weather anyway. I head north, breathing in the cold. The brownstones, the mews, the cobblestones of the Village are so familiar to me that I could traverse its streets in complete darkness. But snow is sticking in thick blankets, heaping over cars and snow laden street lights drop soft yellow haloes on my path, making everything foreign, alien.

I think about heading back to the No Name. I like Village nightlife. I enjoy the jazz musicians, writers, and artists who settle here with their easy talk, liberal ideas, and talents. Most are free spirits like myself taking life as it comes. In the beginning I thought we were all special, but now I’m not so sure. I don’t feel like a free spirit. I’m a work drone, outside of it all somehow, doubting just what I’m doing here, if anything. Every night small groups of young people make the rounds of the bars going from Chumley’s to the White Horse Tavern to the No Name to the Corner Bistro, in merry little packs, laughing and joking youth away. Drinking lives away is closer to the truth.

Last night at the No Name, Peter found me at the bar. I’m avoiding the Bistro because Diana is keeping her distance and I don’t want to appear needy. But I am in need, and the No Name is full of the same customers if you sit there long enough. It was the first time I’d seen Peter since I kicked him out of my railroad flat on Avenue B.

“How many times do I have to say I’m sorry?” He lit a Camel and squinted at me, let smoke trail in spirals up his nostrils. It made him look arrogant. His long hair was tied back, framing a gaunt face.

He reached toward me, but I turned on my barstool to face the room.

“You should have been a man.” My voice was soft, but icy in my own ears. I knew I could not forgive him. I couldn’t express how angry I was at his freeloading, and inviting Kirkaldy to freeload off me too—and worse, how lonely and unhappy I feel with him gone. But Jesus, why has everything spiraled out of my control?

Peter smirked. “You mean like Ed Shelton? You wouldn’t kick his ass out into the street, would you?”

I left, shaken. They are all cronies. Damn him anyway. Damn them both.

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The snow finally lets up. The tips of my fingers are freezing cold, jammed in the pockets of my long, tweed coat. I suddenly realize I have walked a full circle back to Christopher Street. Deep in thought, meandering through snow, cheeks chapped by frozen tears, I find myself back at Stefan’s. I wipe at the frost on the window of the back room so I can see in, but the booth is empty.

He says he lives next door and it is right there, an old brownstone. The door is enameled bright red with brass numerals 1 0 0 and a matching doorknocker to invoke the feel of a private home, when in fact it is cut up into railroad apartments. I check my watch under the street lamp. Nearly midnight. It’s hard to read the directory, so I find matches at the bottom of my bag, burning three before I find Olivetti #3, written in a neat script. I back out into the middle of Christopher, empty of traffic except for an occasional off duty cab, and look up. Are those lights on the third floor behind lacy sheers and a moving shadow or is it just my imagination? I yell out “Franco!” But nobody comes to the window. That’s no good. I’m going to wake the whole building. The red door swings open when I try it, so I let myself in, and go up the narrow staircase. The interior is clean and shabby like most apartments on the West Side. My hand hesitates before I knock.

As his door opens, loud operatic music fills the hallway. Franco stands in the entrance dressed in a brocade smoking jacket and black silk pajamas. Little embroidered slippers on his feet are jeweled with sequins. His mouth hangs open in surprise when he sees me, the O of his lips seeming to emit the soprano’s shrill melody.

“I was in the neighborhood. It’s late, I shouldn’t have. But I guess I didn’t want to go home after all. I’m really sorry to bother you.” I wish I could dart back down the stairs.

“No, it’s fine,” Franco says, furrowing his dark brows. “I’m just surprised to see you here.”

“I’ll go. I thought maybe we could talk. It’s too late.” I back away, embarrassed, tears starting to well again. What is the matter with me?

“No, come in,” Franco fully opens the door. “I’m not used to company, but you should come in, you’re freezing.”

“Are you sure?” I ask . Franco backs in, pulling me in by the hand. He helps me off with my coat and hangs it on a hanger in a hall closet.

“Let me get you something. A drink. A hanky.” Franco turns the volume down on the record player and offers me a chair. He disappears through a door and comes back with a crisp square of Irish linen. “Tea or coffee?” he says, heading for the kitchenette.

I reach in my bag for a tissue, leaving the beautiful handkerchief folded on my lap. “Whatever’s easiest,” I say. I focus on the apartment. It is like nothing I have ever seen. Chiffon curtains at the windows are framed by heavy maroon drapes and a rococo gilded valance. Fringed lampshades top baroque figurines. And everywhere is opera. An assortment of antique opera glasses and delicate little cases sit on shelves. In ornate frames, posters from famous opera houses picturing larger-than-life divas line the walls; walls papered in faux cut velvet. A cross between my notions of an 18th century drawing room and a French whorehouse.

Long-playing records are strewn about the floor. Callas. Sills. Price. I vaguely recognize the names or faces on the album covers. And books. He hadn’t been kidding; there are shelves and shelves of books. On top of a bookshelf sit a rough stick and a hard ball. The type one sees on the street in the hands of children.

Franco sets out a silver teapot and china cups on the antique coffee table. “Feeling better?” he says. “How about cookies?” I shake my head, and nod toward the stick.

“Oh, I’m a product of Brooklyn, what else? I love stick ball!”

“I guess you like opera too, huh?” I grin.

“Honey, I’m Italian!” Franco holds his pinkie finger out as he lifts his cup. “That’s Tebaldi singing. Do you know her?” The aria finishes, and the apartment is suddenly hushed.

“No. I don’t know anything.” I begin to cry again. Franco comes to my side, and stands over my chair, his hands fluttering in the air.

“What is it? What’s the matter, honey?” His voice is throaty and consoling. He tentatively pats my shoulder.

I look up at him, eyes brimming. His smooth face is full of concern. He’s a page out of history, a dandy, a fop, a faggot in a costume right out of some opera. His big dark eyes burrow into my face, and I decide he’s my friend. Maybe, right now, my only friend.

“I don’t know. I’m losing my mind,” I sob, knowing how ridiculous I am. “I feel stupid. I hate being me.”

“I might have guessed some jerky boyfriend let you down?”

I nod, “that too. The one I want got away. The one after that was a moocher.”

“Now, now. I told you all those boys are beasts.” Franco opens the handkerchief and mops my face gently. He kneels down, facing my chair. “They’re like subway trains. Another one will be along in a minute, you’ll see.”

“That’s the problem. I’ve taken too many trains already. I wish I was dead, if you want to know the truth.” The words hang awkwardly in the air for an instant.

“I see,” Franco says. His long fingers clasp my hands between his own. “I’m sorry, It’ll be okay, you’ll see. You want to stay here with me tonight? You’re safe, you know.” Franco makes a wry smile and squeezes my hand.

I feel better already. “Are you sure I’m not a drag?”

“I should know about that! Believe me, you’re not! I’ll be able to say Marilyn slept here. The envy of every straight man in New York. I’ll even let you sleep in my bed, the actual bed, I want you to know, used in the Met’s last production of “Otello.”

“I can’t take your bed. The couch is fine.”

“Come and see it before you decide. I got it for a song. Pardon the pun. From one of Mario Del Monaco’s production auctions. Do you know he’s sung Otello nearly 200 times?” Franco leads me to the rear of the apartment.

“I never heard of him. I’ve never seen an opera.”

“Well, you’ve come to the right place. Just you wait.”

I follow him through an ornate beaded curtain into a tiny bedroom. An enormous canopied bed dominates the room. It’s built so high above the floor that an antique step stool is parked beside it. Yards of gleaming damask formally drape the canopy, with matching pillows and bedspread in a pale yellow color. “It looks like butter,” I say. “It’s fabulous.”

“Well, if it’s good enough for Desdemona, it’s good enough for me,” Franco says proudly, pleased with my response. “Go on, get up there.”

I pull off my boots, step on the stool and lift myself onto the oversized mattress. I giggle as I feel my body sink into a sea of down. “You talked me into it,” I say. “But my God, there’s room here for you and me and the Ninth Fleet.”

“Now there’s a thought,” Franco says. “I love a man in uniform. Now would you like PJ’s or a nightshirt?”

“Shirt. Are you sure it’s okay?”

Franco’s already at the closet. “I’m delighted that you came here tonight, that you trust me. I don’t have many friends, you know.” He tosses the clothing on the foot of the bed.

“That’s hard to believe. Why not?” I sit up, move over to the far side of the bed and pat a vacant spot for Franco. I spot the copy of “Henderson The Rain King” on a night table. He does all right for a secretary, I think, surveying the photographs on a small dresser against the wall. The frames are elaborate sterling silver. “You have such beautiful things,” I say.

“Oh, all old things from a previous lifetime.” He waves the compliment away.

“Now I can tell everyone I was in bed with Marilyn!” Franco laughs as he steps up, and sits beside me. We nestle into the big pillows, and fold our legs beneath us.

“Well, here we are—the secretary and the beautiful movie star. Would you like me to take a letter, Miss Monroe?”

“I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t you read to me?” I say. “What’s it about?” I nod toward the night table.

Franco reaches for the book. “A rich guy’s having a mid-life crisis. He leaves his family, his home to go to Africa where he lives with this tribe of natives. It’s very bizarre. He’s seeking an answer.”

“An answer to what?”

“Well, it haunts him — this yearning. He keeps saying “I want, I want, I want.”

I waggle my fingers at him. “Oh, do read.”

Franco opens and reads dramatically from a book-marked page. “All you hear from guys is desire, desire, desire, knocking its way out of the breast, fear, striking and striking. Enough already! Time for a word of truth. Time for something notable to be heard. Otherwise, accelerating like stone, you fall from life to death. Exactly like a stone, straight into deafness, and till the last repeating I want I want I want, then striking the earth and entering it forever! As a matter of fact, I thought, out in the African sun from which the hooked wall of thorn temporarily cooled me: It’s a pleasure when harsh objects like thorns do something for you. Under the black barbs that the bushes had crocheted above us, I thought it out and agreed: the grave was relatively shallow.” Franco pauses, lays the book face down on his stomach.

“Isn’t that like poetry?” he says, his face solemn and reverent. “It’s even worse if you’ve found what you want and lose it.”

“I thought guys just wanted sex,” I say. “But that’s too easy. I guess we all yearn for something else, huh?” My eyelids feel leaden and start to flutter.

What do I want? What? Fatigue overtakes me like quicksand. I sink into the pillow, and Franco closes the book.

“Crawl under,” he says, rolling his body beneath the feather bed. He holds the covers up until I squirm in.

“This is where the curtain comes down, my dear. Nighty night.”

“We’re a fine pair, aren’t we? We want, we want,” I murmur. We fall asleep in our clothes.

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Franco and I meet regularly at Stefan’s on Friday nights for dinner, and go up to his place to listen to opera afterwards. He starts me with Carmen and we move through his collection, Aida, Suon Angelica, Otello and more.

“That’s Beverly Sills!” I cry, and hop about the living room. Franco beams as I learn to discern the voices of the divas.

“I know what,” he says, “let’s make a pact to save our money and attend a live performance at the Met.”

“Deal,” I say. “As soon as the season opens, but no Wagner!”

At our dinners, it’s clear to me that Franco has eyes for Rudy, the portly bartender at Stefan’s, who remains oblivious. I think Rudy probably likes women anyway. Franco once catches my sly smile, rolls his eyes, sniffs haughtily. “You are SO wrong. I’m with Marilyn, don’t bother me about that other ‘Mary.’”

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On a summer evening at Stefan’s, over Salades Niçoise, Franco announces “I quit my job.”

“Very funny.” I pour a little of his wine into my own empty glass.

“I’m not kidding. I’m taking a vacation, and then I’ll look for something new.” Franco pushes a piece of tuna around on his plate with the tip of a steak knife.

“And what, pray tell, will you use for money? Don’t expect me to buy while you’re loafing around the house, kiddo.” I grin at him, and reach over to his plate for a black olive.

“You should pay! I’d rather dress you than feed you.” Franco laughs and pushes what is left of his dinner across the table.

“What happened at work?” I eye him as I nibble off his plate.

“Nobody gooses me in the elevator! How much can I take?”

“Oh You. Did old Don yell at you again?”

Franco drops his gaze. “No, he’s being transferred to Albany. He offered to get me transferred with him.” His face clouds up. “He knows I’d never leave the city. And of course, there’s no other position open that would be right for me.”

“You should lodge a complaint. They can’t do that,” I say. I move to his side of the booth, and cradle his face in my hands.

“It’s time,” Franco says. “Forget it, it’s time.” But he rubs his cheek against my fingers, like a dog nuzzling his master’s hand.

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In 1962 it’s a glorious spring in New York, but Franco doesn’t find a job. I have trouble reaching him sometimes, and often have to beg him to come to Friday night dinners. The Tebaldi arias trill in the background as I hold the phone, waiting for him to acquiesce. He always does meet me. We are friends. But he’s often aloof, unhappy.

“You’ve got to do something,” I say, holding his hands across the table. “Let me help you find something. I’m worried about you.” His clothes look a little rumpled, not his usual dapper self.

“I’m working it out,” he says. “I have savings.” But his skin’s drab and he looks sad.

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In the fall I enroll in an accounting course at N.Y.U. held on Tuesday and Thursday nights. After quitting college at the University of Miami, one of my jobs was as a receptionist for a construction company where my boss taught me to handle accounts receivable. I was good at it, she said. That always stayed with me, that I am good at something. So I decide this might be a way for me to improve my skills.

Diana starts talking to me again when she finds out. I’m not sure why going back to school makes her forgive me. If she misses me, I suspect bettering myself is an excuse in her mind for clemency. Or maybe that I am out of therapy has softened her views. I have certainly missed her. If it wasn’t for Franco, I’d have been in despair. But Diana and I have been friends too many years to stay mad for long. We never discuss our differences, but just pick up where we left off.

I return once again to the Bistro. She points out the new waiter they’ve hired. His name is Tom Hammond. He’s clean cut and good looking, and begins to pay attention to me. I feel a little more balanced, a little more hopeful. I tell Franco about him.

“His father’s a big muckamuck doctor in Detroit. He majored in Philosophy in school. He’s not a Village bohemian. His hair is really short. And he’s cheerful.”

“You’ll be hearing wedding bells before you know it,” Franco says.

“Don’t be daft. He’s not my type.”

“He must be good for you. You’re radiant.”

“Well, ever since I was a kid, I’ve written little verses. It would be so cool to be a poet someday, but I’m not that good. He likes what I write.”

“Why does it matter what he thinks? He’s not your type.”

“Well, he’s a poet, and he’s got a book deal. It matters because he respects my mind.”

“What mind?” I toss a French roll across the booth. Franco ducks.

“I’ve got an idea. Let’s go down to the river. It’s a beautiful night. And dinner is on me.” Franco makes a face at me.

We walk down to Hudson Avenue under a sky shot with stars, their sparkle blurred by the milky glow of street lamps. The dark, spring air is heavier near the river. I can smell the fishy froth that slaps against the poles beneath the pier. Like children, we hold hands as we walk.

“Level with me. Where are you going to look for a job?”

Franco sighs. “I have no idea.”

“What would you really like to do? Do you want to be a secretary?” It occurs to me that he has never discussed his job. We are always busy talking books and opera and office gossip. “You could do other things, you know.”

“I wasn’t always like this,” Franco says. He stops in a pool of light under one of the pier’s lamp poles and looks into my face. “When I was young, I was really handsome with thick black hair. You should have seen my hair. I even had a little money. I had a very different life then.”

“What did you do? You’ve never mention anything.”

“I was a tenor. I sang professional opera.” His voice drops to almost a whisper. “I don’t usually talk about it.”

“And you never told me?” I say. “An opera singer. Imagine that.” Franco’s eyes are lowered, his gentle mouth turned down.

Renata Tebaldi is the greatest singer of our time, and I was her protégé. She chose me out of hundreds and hundreds of competitors, and I would have been a very big star. I wanted it more than anything in the whole world. It was my life. When I did roles in small cities, the local critics raved. Seeing me now, I know it’s hard to believe.”

“It is not! Why did you give it up? What happened?” I can’t imagine Franco doing anything but opera now that I know this. It makes his oddness, his unique ways seem perfectly normal. He is of that world, and belongs in it. Not the tacky offices of the New York Port Authority’s Drafting Division. And a secretary at that.

“It wasn’t meant to be.” Franco shrugs. “Life is complex. I don’t think I’ll ever understand it.” He leans against the railing of the pier. “I was scheduled to make my debut at the Met in the fall of 1950. I moved to Florida for Renata’s camp that summer. It was to be a summer of rehearsals and preparation. It was demanding and very important. I was pretty worked up, wanting to do it all perfectly. A really big deal. You can see how a person would be worked up, right?”

“Well, sure,” I say. Franco’s fingers dance on the weathered wood as he talks, as if they are doing the remembering.

“Anyway, the upshot is I had a nervous breakdown. Right there, on the spot. I was hospitalized for months. My hair fell out. I lost my voice. It dropped like a bomb.” Franco’s deep voice cracks, his hand flies to his mouth. “I never sang again.”

I fling my arms around him, grasping him tightly. I can feel his chest move in silent weeping, his hands clasped over his face.

“No man wants a bald lover. You should have seen my beautiful hair!” His voice is muffled and broken. I hold on until Franco’s body finally quiets. He lowers his head to my shoulder and whispers “I’m like Henderson in the book. I want. I want.”

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I start leaving work at the Port Authority every night at a quarter to five, fifteen minutes early, to avoid the crush in the elevators.

On a late Friday afternoon, my boss, Mr. Stayduhar, calls me into his office and reprimands me for leaving early. Stayduhar’s assistant is sitting right there which rankles me. I’m too embarrassed to explain the elevator wolves, especially in front of Finch. Waved off with a warning, like a reprimanded child, I march to my desk and type a resignation letter, and leave it in the typewriter. Then I storm to the elevator. Before five o’clock.

The wind whips my coat as I walk up Christopher Street toward Stefan’s. Elated by my own bravery, I can scarcely wait to tell Franco. He will love the story, love that I stood up to them too.

Now we can job hunt together, support each other. It’s going to be a good thing, I vow. Good riddance to the lot of them.

I haven’t taken time to call Franco for a date, and hope he’ll show up without urging. I look in the front window of Stefan’s but Rudy shakes his head and shrugs. No Franco. I head for his apartment, rehearsing my news.

A small group gathers outside the building, along the spiked wrought-iron fence. Neighbors, onlookers.

“What happened here?” I say. Then I see the ambulance parked on the side street of the building. A paramedic gets into the driver’s cab.

“Who is it?” I say to no one in particular. I begin to run toward the vehicle, but its engine is already groaning into gear, and it pulls out leaving me standing by.

“There’s a cop upstairs,” says a woman with a broom in her hand. “On the Third. I’m the manager.” Her face is a scowl of disapproval, looking me over. “Are you kin?”

I take the stairs in threes, my heart rattling in my chest. Franco’s door stands open, with men moving about inside. One carries a camera. I approach the uniformed policeman. The numbers etched on his NYPD badge refuse to come into focus. It glitters in the thin light falling through the part in Franco’s window sheers.

“Please, Officer.”

“Who are you?” The cop looks me over carefully. He is staring. Rudely. I can feel my mascara running.

“I’m Franco’s best friend. Like a sister,” I say. “Please, is he okay?” But I know he’s dead. There is no point pretending. “He’s dead, isn’t he?”

“Yes, Miss, I’m afraid so. Unless you can tell us something we don’t know, in all probability it’s suicide. Would you be Marilyn?”

I hesitate. My body feels anesthetized, and I collapse on the nearest chair.

“You got some ID, Miss?” I fish my wallet from my handbag and pass it to the cop who studies it carefully. “Your name’s not Marilyn.”

“No, that’s just Franco’s nickname for me.”

“Sleeping pills, Miss Jackson,” the cop says, producing a little evidence bag containing three empty pill vials. He returns my wallet. “There’s a note. I need to take it in, but you can read it first if you want, and reclaim it in a day or two at the Charles Street station, if that’s okay.” The Sergeant hands me a lilac sheet of paper sheathed in clear plastic..

I take it with numb fingers.

Dear Marilyn,

I want you to promise me you’ll go to the Met without me. Otello is coming this season, and it was my best role, me at my happiest. Think of me that way if you can. Nothing in my life compared to it except sleeping with Marilyn. It’s too late. I want nothing more.

Forgive me. I love you. Franco.

I read the fine script a second time, and hand it back to the policeman. “Did he die in bed?” I whisper.

“Yes,” he says. His eyes are sympathetic. “He had on some Arab getup, his arms crossed over his chest, a turban on his head.”

“And little brocade slippers. That sounds like what he’d do.” I let my tears spill. “I’ll get the note back, right?” I stand on weak legs.

“Sure, sure,” he says, with a funny look on his face. As I head for the door, he adds, “You know, I can see a resemblance.”

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  © Beverly A. Jackson, 2011
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