Thoughts rammed Roy’s mind. He leaned to rest his forehead  against the kitchen window. The glass cooled the fire that raged through his head.  Reality is here and now.

Reality was the girls’ laughter heard from beyond a sheer pane of glass. What about the children? Roy stood at the window and watched his daughters skip about the yard. Annie darted in and out from behind the weathered garage, her fist balled tight. Hidden within  was found treasure- a smooth stone, a feather, or some lost  bits of nature. Waving her fist, she teased Madeline, tempted her to join in a game of tag- winner take all. Of course, Madeline ignored the bait, choosing instead to pause and wonder at the creature she had discovered crawling along the bark of the cherry tree.

Earlier that morning, Jacqueline had asked, ” The old man wants to know. When are you painting the garage?”

“I’ll paint it on the first sunny day,” he had said.  And why does she always refer to her father as The Old Man?

Here it was. Full sun. The old man had already scraped the cedar boards and replaced the rot. 

There was work to do. Instead, he paused and watched Madeline pick a wriggling caterpillar from the cherry tree and dangle it in front of her nose. Gently, she placed the creature back onto the trunk. Madeline’s cat like eyes followed the caterpillar’s journey until it had roamed beyond reach. Annoyed, she crossed her arms tightly about her chest and lowered her head.

Birds flit everywhere. Robins, chickadees, and swallows glided to rest upon the tree’s branches. Lifting their wings just a bit, each bird let the sun’s warmth kiss their feathers. It was the season of transformation and just as spring announces change, he too, was in flux.

Annie skipped across the lawn like an inbound storm. Her arms reached for the branches of the tree, her fingers batting blossoms. Pure joy shone from her face. “Pink snow, pink snow!” He watched her pick the fallen blossoms from Madeline’s hair.

It was enough to witness Annie’s bewitching charm. She blew kisses to the clouds, danced with ghosts, her arms outstretched as she spun. He worried that her imagination was getting out of hand; she lived in her head.

“You need to reign her in,” he had told Jacqueline. “All this talk of fairies and-“ 

“Leave her be.” “Imagination is a gift.” 

He had watched as Jacqueline resumed her painting. Roses, their petals drooped cloud white, spilled overtop a round, golden vase. This morning, she had added leaves, tucked them in between the buds. He marvelled at her talent. 

“She needs to play with other children-,“ he had said.

Jacqueline froze mid brush stroke. “Enough. There are kids from one end of the block to the other.”  The brush, loaded with bluish paint, dropped to the pallet. Her fingers reached for  a cigarette.

“There’s a private nursery school up the street, ” he said.  “I think- ”

Jacqueline lit her smoke and paused to exhale. “It costs money, Roy. You paying?”

The loaded question she  left hanging in air, suggested that her father was the all time giver, the reason they weren’t renting some basement suite on the east side. Her tone certain; Jacqueline had a limited interest in the opinion of someone who had just married into the family.  

 

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

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.