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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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Fancy Soaps — 1961

It’s an unbearably hot New York City summer weekend, and I head for the only water hole bigger than my bath tub. I spot Ed Shelton at the downtown public swimming pool. Ed is a “name” around the Village—always in the bars slouched over a pay phone on the wall, receiver to his ear, gin martini in his hand. We assume he’s talking theater business and securing jobs—the pay phone in every saloon is Ed’s personal office. He cups the bowl of his martini glass like the head of a tulip, with the stem dangling between his middle fingers. The man is formidable, sophisticated, clearly out of my league. A barrel-chested Broadway stage manager, Ed is hip, older, thirty-two or three, with an aura, a swagger, and a reputation that tantalizes me. Though he’s far from handsome, he has a craggy quality I find irresistible.

“Masculine verging on Neanderthal,” my friend, Diana says.

 He looks hung over, stands dazed in the shallow end while children in goggles undulate underwater in and out of shadow like tadpoles around his legs. Tribes of shrieking children cannonball into three feet of water, raising tsunamis. A quarter-acre of moving flesh covers the rickety chaises, beach towels and blowup floats all around us. My towel lies between two mothers who bellow cautionary threats at their young. I grit my teeth, trying to visualize a rich tan on the city pallor of my skin.

Ed is in a kind of trance, squatting, immersing himself up to the chin, rising, dunking again in a slow, hypnotic rhythm with half-closed eyes fixed on the concrete wall. It’s a humid 90 degrees and every ten minutes or so, out of necessity, I stagger to the edge of the pool and dangle my legs into the water to cool off. Not keen on dunking my body in probable child piss, I gingerly pat my shoulders with cupped handfuls of water. Ed notices me. As if the sight of me is sobering, he comes to life. Lizard like, his eyelids lift, and he wades through the throngs of squirmy bathers toward me.

“Don’t we know each other?” he begins.

Hitching up the bra of my bikini, I rush into explanations.

“My alleged roommate lives with your buddy, Jim Butcher.”

 Diana, my best friend, is spending nights with the bartender of the Bistro, but her belongings are still stored in our walkup, and she thankfully still shares the rent.

Ed dives right into his show biz routine. He does that male thing of fanning his credentials, like a pack of cards—his theater successes, conquests, life’s lessons. He rattles off the names of Broadway stage actors, and directors he’s known. He worked on “Sweet Bird of Youth,” and does equity, non-equity, on and on. But I don’t know theater, and am sure not to admit I have only seen movies. I listen and he likes it that I listen. But I am way too excited to absorb much except my good fortune and the fact that he likes to talk about himself.

“I could use a hair of the dog,” he says, as the sun starts to droop toward the top of the wall. “Care to join me?”

The locker rooms reek of chlorine and are a din of clanging doors. As I change into shorts and a skimpy halter-top, I catch my face in the mirror. My cheeks and shoulders bloom prettily with sunburn, making my platinum blonde hair look even lighter if that is possible. I haven’t had a date in weeks. The poor man’s Marilyn beams back at me in the glass; perhaps I have made the majors at last.

I meet Ed out front and we head for the nearest bar, neat rolls of soggy terrycloth tucked under our arms. A street vendor outside hits him up for roses, and he buys me a long-stemmed, red beauty. I carry it around all night like a badge of honor.

 We push on to Chumley’s then Stefan’s bar where Stefan himself buys us a drink. Then we barhop up Hudson Avenue to the White Horse Tavern, and the No-Name. He can put away three drinks to my one, no small feat since I have a hollow leg. The Corner Bistro is our last stop, home base for both of us. Jim Butcher isn’t working, so Diana isn’t there. I’m relieved, unsure of how this would go over with her. She has strong objections to Jim’s drinking buddies, and Ed is a good friend of Jim’s. We get greetings and back slaps as we walk in, and friends wiggle their brows at our new union—for the Village is nothing if not a back fence of gossip and a shared pond of lovers and spouses.

Ed is on the phone at every bar, so I play down our quasi-date as “just friends,” when the curious come over to keep me company and pry. They crow, “oh sure,” winking over my head. Ed’s well liked, a man’s man, but women take to him too. Secretly I envision an exciting life with him, theater, parties— the envy of all. Ed’s in the fold of Village saloon owners, and it would be lovely to share what Diana already has, the inside track, that private clique of theirs.

We pub crawl back to the East Village along Greenwich Avenue and drunkenly traverse the four flights up to my flat, past the bathtub in the kitchen, through the railroad rooms each painted in different colors, to the living room sofa. The poor droopy rose ends up in a waterless jelly jar, to be pressed later in my scrapbook.

I can hardly believe that right here on Avenue B, sitting on the cheap vinyl sofa of my railroad apartment, is Ed Shelton. The oompah music of the Polish bar downstairs rises like heat—while we breathe on each other like dragons in the dark.

 I light a candle, and Ed wastes no time getting my shorts off.

Then things change. His fluid, easy demeanor becomes nervous and urgent. After one small kiss, and in one quick motion, he buries his face between my legs.

“Hey, hold your horses,” I say.

He responds with a few incoherent words that leave me giggling, but as I try to unzip his fly, he manages to push my hand away. I try to pull his shaggy head up to mine, but he resists. When I try to squirm into a sixty-nine position, he holds me in place. There is a rigid, controlling intensity about this that I don’t comprehend.

What’s a poor girl to do? I relax. And he gets more intense than ever. After maybe my third orgasm, he says, “Did you get off?”

“Are you nuts?” I reply, breathing with difficulty. He hasn’t even unzipped his pants.

“Are you sure? Are you okay?” he insists.

“Don’t you want to move up here?” I ask, trying to pull him up and over me.

His body tightens again. He sits up straight and reaches for his smokes. The candlelight plays off his big, rugged face. His forehead scrunches in a frown.

“You’re just a kid,” he says.

 “What?” I yell. “I’m almost twenty three!” I put my foot against his shoulder and rock him with a mock kick.

He is serious. He turns and cradles me gently, like a child. “I can’t do this,” he whispers.

“What are you talking about? You already did!”

 He stands up and stares down at me, smoke curling from his nostrils, Van Heflin in a B movie. I can feel my heart doing doesy-does. Something is going to ruin this.

“I can’t remember your name. That’s a bad sign.”

“Bullshit,” I say. He just stares at me. “It’s Beverly. Go on, say it ten times, Beverly.”

He shakes his head, inhaling deeply on the Camel.

“Well, I remember yours—Ass Hole!” I swing my legs onto the floor, and reach for my shorts.

“You’re going to be one hell of a broad,” he says before turning and going toward the door. Just like that. Just as cool as an ice cube.

I follow him into the kitchen. “Fuck you!” I yell.

“You should do something about that mouth,” he says, reaches over and kisses my forehead like I’m a child before he exits and bounds down the stairs.I want to kill him. I put out the candle and sit in the dark for awhile and cry. Him walking out on me like this feels like some vaguely familiar terror, some horrible pain in the core of me which I can’t begin to reach or console. I want him dead. That’s how I know it’s love.

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I show up at the Corner Bistro the following night to meet Diana. Of all the bars in the Village, it’s my favorite. It’s Diana’s too, of course, because her boyfriend is the bartender and new co-owner. The old wood, ceiling fans and sawdust on the floor are no different than any other downtown saloon. But the regulars, the folks who loyally frequent the place tend to be special. Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, local jazz musicians, hold court with swing and bebop fans and the jukebox is full of their 45s. The hamburgers have a secret ingredient, and are the best. The haunting oil paintings on the walls reflect an eerie light that seems to float beneath murky ochre and black figures. I love art and wish I could paint, so I am quick to admire when others do. They are the work of a Village local, Bill Kirkaldy, once a businessman who dropped out and became a formidable painter. He’s a close friend of Jim Butcher, Diana’s boyfriend. For me, his paintings make the Bistro special, dark and mysterious.

As I come in the door, out of the corner of my eye, I see Ed standing at one end of the bar with a woman. A tall, very pretty woman. I keep walking heading to the far end of the saloon, near the ladies room, where Diana’s already seated on a barstool and has saved one for me.

 “Hi,” I say glumly. I haven’t seen her in days.

“Did you get the rent in?” Diana searches her bag for her checkbook, and hands me a check.

The Catholic Workers crowd, the intelligentsia of the Village, is gathered at Ed’s end of the bar playing Botticelli, a guessing game. Once Diana and I foolishly asked to join the game, and the next question was “Were you the Prime Minister during the war in Hungary?” To get it right, you are supposed to say “I am...” and name the famous person. Diana and I looked at each other blankly. Was there a war in Hungary? People picked up on it and laughed. We keep our distance after that, and only eavesdrop on their heated discussions about civil rights, Viet Nam and Communist party political candidates.

 I stare at the woman beside Ed at the other end of the bar. She’s leaning over to talk to one of the seated Catholic Workers. She’s nearly as tall as Ed, with huge breasts and ample hips. She isn’t dressed up, but “actress” is written all over her. Her full red mouth is pouty, and her lashes, heavy with mascara, could be a nest for spiders. She’s gorgeous and close to his age, I guess.

“Who’s the brunette?” I ask Diana.

“Oh, I forget her name. She’s in Ed’s new show, I think.” She shoots me a look. “I heard you were with him last night.”

 “Which show?” I try to remember in all of Ed’s ramblings if he had even mentioned he was working a new show. The night before had evaporated like a dream sequence, and I wouldn’t have bet money at that moment that it ever happened.

“He’s going on the road with some revival.” She nods toward the woman. “Jim says they’re just friends.”

“On the road?” My stomach does a quick tumble.

“Didn’t he tell you? A five city tour. A big deal. “ Diana puts a Pall Mall into a short cigarette holder. I don’t like the smug, “inside story” way she’s talking to me. Diana fancies herself the Sophia Loren type, and puts on small airs. She gets drunk with the rest of us, but insists she’s merely “tipsy.”

“What show?”

“I think it’s some off-Broadway thing. I never heard of it.” She blows her smoke away from me.
 “How long do those tours run anyway?”

“Ah, I see interest here!” She looks at me slyly as she leans on one elbow, the palm of her hand thrown up, dangling the cigarette nonchalantly between two fingers. “Years,” she says, grinning, teasing.

Down the bar, Ed’s head tips back in a guffaw, and the actress displays perfect big teeth. Like a Vargas girl, she’s all pink, creamy skin and curves. Yesterday’s sunburn has turned to ruddy splotches on my chest and arms, and scales of skin are already flaking off my nose.

Jim moves down the bar, and puts free drinks in front of us, one of the perks of being Diana’s best friend. She leans across the bar and kisses him lightly.

“Bev wants to know how long Ed will be gone,” she says, a lilt in her voice.

Jim cocks his head and raises one eyebrow. Embarrassed, I lower my eyes, praying for an answer and afraid to hear it.

“The tour’s a few months. But he’s going to manage a regional theater in Detroit after that. He got the offer today.” Jim shrugs. “Looks like we’re losing him.” I stare at the Kirkaldy right behind Jim’s shoulder. It ‘s a painting called “The Judge,” a rendition of a robed monster rising above faces of plebeians whose bodies are depicted in states of disintegration, dripping off the canvas. Sort of like I feel.

Ed walks toward our end of the bar, but goes straight to the pay phone, leaving Miss Ipana in a circle of admiring men. Squinting through the smoke of a Camel, he starts his telephone ritual. His calls are a standing joke since he never divulges who’s on the other end of the line. His glance strays over to us as he talks, but I can’t tell if he is actually seeing us, or too preoccupied to focus.

The bar begins to fill. Jim keeps bourbon and gingers lined up in front of us. Diana gets more bitchy as she drinks.

“He’s never been one to settle down with anyone,” she says.

Just as Ed hangs up the receiver, the actress walks out of the Bistro on the arm of one of the regulars. Ed stands by the pay phone and grins at Jim across the expanse of yellow smoke. The expression on his face is a mixture of amusement, irony and a knowing exchange “between men,” as if to say what else would you expect from a woman? I turn to Diana and say, “Oh, fuck him.”

Ed saunters out of the Bistro with a little wave. Then he disappears from New York. After a month or so, I get a package postmarked San Francisco containing a box of fancy soaps with a note that says, “For your mouth.”

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  © Beverly A. Jackson, 2011
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