Miss Birdie

~an excerpt

Bing’s Palace

1963

Birdie unsnapped the clasp of her sequined clutch, reached within the satin folds and pulled out an ebony compact and a tube of lipstick. She appeared oblivious to his insults and her surroundings. Her mister had forgotten her, therefore, she’d remind him.

Snapping open the compact case, she gazed at her reflection in the mirror. With stealth precision she traced the outline of her lips, plump with colour. Slowly her steady grasp creamed the center of her lips. As a final touch, she removed a tissue from her clutch and softly kissed it.

Taking one last glance into the mirror, she paused. Satisfied, she clicked the compact shut and returned the items to her clutch. The clasp snapped. She turned and pecked a faint scarlet kiss on Annie’s tender cheek. Birdie might as well have fired a bullet through the floor. The silence at the table was deafening.

The boss growled, “Shouldn’t you go for a walk or something?”

Birdie shook her head and motioned toward the bottle. “Pour me another, Roy,” she murmured.

Roy met her gaze; she winked back. He didn’t understand the boss. Birdie was a class act, easy on the eyes, even owned her own business: a sausage factory. No one knew how she’d ended up in that line of work. It seemed profitable. She was clear title on a home nestled within the west side of the city and a good looker. The boss is a fool, he thought and took a drink. As the bourbon went down and warmed his soul, he knew this: Miss Birdie lit up his dark.

 

 

To Dream

An excerpt~

1961

“You want to fly to the moon, Annie?”

“Yes,” she said.

“One day. Maybe one day, honey.”

He offered her hope, something big to imagine, the chance to dream. This was the country where dreams came true. One had to hold to dreams.  From an early age, he had clung to hope. It felt as if yesterday. Shivering, he had cowered beneath the scratchy covers, tossed as an after thought to blanket the rusted army cot.  His small hands clutched a wooden ship.

During those lonely nights he had gazed through a curtain less window and mapped the stars. Questions popped into his mind: Who am I? How did I get here? He dreamt of sailing away from the little house on Second Street. Each morning, he woke, convinced that there was a chance. One day, he thought One more day and then anotherBuoyed on dreams and possibilities that melted like fairy floss from the carnival stall, he had carried on. Hope rooted him to the universe; he convinced himself that his destiny was to rule an empire.

If only someone had warned him that the odds weren’t in his favour and that boardrooms were full of men of privilege. It didn’t matter; he knew this as truth.

TBC

 

Bing’s Palace~ 1963

The men nodded as Roy and Rummy approached, extended their hands, one by one, shook. Rummy leaned in to peck a kiss upon Birdie’s rouged cheek. Roy did likewise. He felt Birdie’s body still, sensed her linger.

“Who’s the little lady?” The boss met Rummy’s glance and demanded an answer.

Before Rummy could speak, Birdie hopped up and took Annie’s hand. “Slide over, Jimmy. Let this dear doll sit next to me.” Her eyes flashed a warning to the boss.

Roy watched as Annie slid onto the seat beside Birdie, fixated on her newfound friend. Birdie waved a manicured hand to signal a waiter. The young man snapped to attention at her side. “Shirley Temple for the little lady, pink umbrella, cherry on top.” She winked at Annie. “That okay, hon?”

Annie nodded and looked down at the tablecloth.

“Thought so. Auntie Birdie knows what the little ladies like.” She smoothed the top of Annie’s head. Turning to face the boss she murmured, “Now you boys get down to business, let us ladies be.”

~ a draft scene from the book I’ll always write

When a man walks into a room, he brings his whole life with him. He has a million reasons for being anywhere, just ask him. If you listen, he’ll tell you how he got there. How he forgot where he was going, and that he woke up. If you listen, he’ll tell you about the time he thought he was an angel or dreamt of being perfect. And then he’ll smile with wisdom, content that he realized the world isn’t perfect. We’re flawed, because we want so much more. We’re ruined, because we get these things, and wish for what we had. ~ Don Draper

Artemis and Sailor

The sky was clear and the moon full.

He whispered, “Love is a powerful drug.”

Artemis blushed.
“Show me an ocean,” she murmured, “ I’ll summon a tide to save your stranded soul.”

His eyes narrowed.

“Show me the moon,” she said.
I’ll pick a star to light your path.”

In that moment he understood how it felt: addicted.

~ Artemis and Sailor

The Clean-Up Man

Roy fumbled with the coins in his pocket. A single incandescent bulb lit up each table- top. The heat in the room glowed and a smoky haze veiled the guests. He peered deeper into the shrouded depths of the room.

Paper serviettes stacked the bar. Shot glasses lined up, topped to the max, the amber liquid ready to swallow. Next to an ice bucket, a hard-boiled bouncer stood sentry. Suffocating evidence, all compliments of the club.

A stream of light demanded Roy’s attention. The beam shot from the bar, stopped just short of his foot. His gaze followed the beam; back-lit by the mirror that covered the wall behind the bar.

A blonde in a tight black dress curved against a man. He saw the light bounce off the rock that hung at the base of her neck. He heard her familiar laugh and listened as the high, trilling notes fell like glitter over the men in the room.

Her eye was on the man known as Kid. One elbow high, black glove, held his back. Birdie.

 

Fit For An Empress

Draft 2

1963

Sam knew where to find impeccable fit and style that could rocket a man to another galaxy. A dangerous level. Ten seconds inside Wen Fong Tailors and a flash of patterned silk caught his eye. He pointed to it.

The elderly tailor smiled. “Ah- a beautiful cloth. “But- not for you, sir.” Wen knew this customer was conservative. The gold cloth was far too dashing for such a man of the street. The choice piqued his interest.

“No.” Sam lowered his head. “A gift. I was thinking for my wife. She often sews clothes for herself or our daughter.”

The tailor nodded. He turned, shuffled to the cutting table and unrolled the bolt to expose the silken cloth. His twisted fingers slid across the surface of the buttery silk. Once stroked, the silken images seemed to come alive. First a serpent head sprung from the cloth, its neck swiveled left then right. Watchful eyes darted and blinked beneath iridescent lids. A tiger padded paw pushed air, as if chancing flight. Suddenly, it was as if writhing dragons twisted for position.

“Beautiful choice for an Empress,” Wen whispered. “Choose a bolt for your jacket, sir.” He bowed. “ I will cut this cloth for your wife.”

“I’ll pay for it,” Sam said. For goodness sake, he wasn’t a man for charity. Not yet. Sam reached for his wallet. His head banged; he needed a pill. What the hell was going on in here?

Wen raised one palm, “Stop.” He beamed, “ No cost, Mr. Sam.”

Clarity returned.  Sam lifted one hand, pressed it to his forehead, focused on his breaths. When he looked at the cloth, the dragons had settled to their one-dimensional state.

The tailor interrupted, “Tired, Mr. Sam?’

Sam nodded. He felt dead in a disgraceful life.

Two fingers tapped his temple. “Control your thoughts,” Wen remarked.

Wen measured the length of Sam’s sleeve, hummed and muttered, as he eyed his customer. The tailor recorded numerals to mark the sweet-spot where cloth meets wrist bone. His bent fingers gripped a pencil that scribbled notations into a leather bound notebook.

Several rolls of butcher’s paper covered the surface of the work table. As the tailor sketched a jacket form to paper, he spoke of the dragon’s potent power.

“Dragon has control over water, rainfall, typhoons.”

Wen paused to study his customer. He traveled Sam from head to toe as a surveyor maps land segments. Satisfied, he lifted the pencil from between his lips and placed a new marking alongside the paper sketch.

“Dragon, powerful creäture, a shape shifter like man.” He looked into Sam’s eyes and smiled.

Sam saw watery, deep pools of blue-green reflected back. It felt as if he was drowning in this man’s soul, bewitched yet unafraid. The dream like images clicked through a projector of moments. First, he dove into water, punched awake by the icy sting. Diving deeper, he came to rest upon the sandy bottom of a riverbed. His hands effortlessly lifted, dropped and rolled boulders. Some he carried.

Water flowed through Sam; he wasn’t drowning. Rather, this reverie shocked him back to life. All of these impossible feats felt possible while in the presence of this transcendent man. Troubles drifted; he was Atlas. Nothing could cut him down. Upon his shoulders he carried the weight of the world, the Sun and Moon, his wife and daughter, their puny life on Twelfth Street.

Wen coughed. Fingertips lifted the tape measure from the table. With precision, his eyes locked on Sam. Satisfied, he stepped behind his customer, measured from the base of his neck to mid bottom. “Drop must be exact, more British,” he mumbled.

Pleased, Wen draped the tape measure about his neck, stepped back and once again, his rheumy eyes peered at Sam, as if he was attempting to solve  a mathematical equation of parts to form a whole. Finally he spoke; his voice, always a whisper.

“Nine attributes, Mr. Sam. Nine heavens. Nine is your lucky number.”

The tailor looked into Sam’s eyes as if searching for more proof. “Excellent, outstanding people are dragons.” He pointed a bent finger. “You, Mr. Sam are a dragon.”

Sam felt the burn rise up his neck; a fevered flush spread across his cheeks. He wondered, Am I an outstanding man?

Doubt sneered. The push and pull of vice. The gambling house, the drink, pretty women and the sniff of cash, these images dropped before his eyes like a scattered deck of cards.

Yet, this wise man thinks I’m worthy.

Sam straightened. When he spoke, the words strolled out. “I will honour the dragon.”

The tailor flashed his knowing smile and bowed his grizzled head. “Let me share the dragon’s story.” In a voice that rose barely above a whisper he began.

“Ancient Chinese, descendants of the dragon.”

Wen shuffled back and forth between Sam and the cutting table, jotting measurements to paper. “Dates back thousands and thousands of years.” He lifted the dangling tape measure from his neck, re-measured from Sam’s shoulder to wrist. “Emperors wore robes with dragon motif, imperial symbol of nobility.”

Satisfied, the tailor stopped and faced his customer. “ I make us tea, Mr. Sam.” He disappeared into a room off the back of the shop.

 

Sam heard a faint rustle from a distant corner. He turned toward the sound. An ornate brass birdcage stood to the right of the front window. The cage was open on all sides. Light streamed through the bars, creating parallel lines across the plank floor. Inside the cage, perched a Diamond Dove. It began to coo.

Sam closed his eyes. The rhythmic sound lulled him to imagine. The dove’s white feathers, wings outspread became an angel in flight. He felt as if lifted by steady wings. Higher and higher they flew until-

“Excuse me kind sir.” The tailor spoke; the dream interrupted, vanished.

“Our tea.”

He set a tray upon the cutting table. Steam rose from the spout of a cast iron pot. Two porcelain cups sat empty, waiting. Wen poured the tea and bowed. “Enjoy.” He waited as Sam sipped the hot liquid. A drawn out sound much like a keening sob hung over the cage.

“A moment,” he said. “My dear Empress is calling me.”

It sounded as if every heart in the world had broken.

With these words, Wen shuffled toward the cage, opened the latched door and gently stroked the back of the dove. He murmured words that Sam could not interpret. Finally, he reached into the pocket of his woolen sweater and pulled out a crumpled paper bag. Carefully he dumped the contents into a tiny ceramic bowl, an offering for his Empress.

“Ground up soup noodles,” he chuckled. “Her favourite.”

The tailor shuffled back to the table and placed the rumpled paper bag on the cutting board. He lifted his cup, closed his eyes and took a sip of tea. Satisfied, he reached for his cutting shears.

“Now I cut the cloth for your wife.” He bowed and leaned over the cutting table.

“You have a son, Mr. Sam?”

“A daughter,” Sam said. “My wife is expecting our second child within the month.”

The burn returned to his cheeks. He hoped for a boy. Didn’t every man want a son to carry on his legacy? Annie is a girl.

Wen sighed; his scissors sliced cloth. “Hoping one’s son will become a dragon?” He stepped back and looked at Sam, waited for a reply.

Sam straightened under the tailor’s steely gaze.”Yes,” he said.

“Very well.”

Wen’s fingers appeared to dance across the silk, nimble tucks and turns folded the cloth into a tidy rectangular form.  He pointed to one silk screened dragon, now still as a statue. “Four claws. Worn by princes and nobles. Perfect symbol for your Empress’s child.”

The tailor pointed to the bolts of cloth that lined the walls of his shop.

“Now determine your choice of cloth. I will work my magic, transform you.”

 

 

 

 

A Beautiful Moment

 

He turned the dial on the radio. Another voice took over, silenced the demon. This voice scorched through his skin from surface to core. Notes rose, touched the ceiling and dropped to the floor. The alto voice admonished and enchanted as the lyrics hugged father and daughter. Nina Simone, “The High Priestess of Soul” punched the tiny room with passion and spirit, nestled herself into every corner, tucked her soul into each cupboard and drawer.