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.
It was two years from the date that his second daughter was born. Christened, Madeline Jane, she’d shuddered, chest heaving through her gown, as the priest muttered blessings and sprinkled holy water upon the crown of her smooth, pinkish head.
Earlier this morning, the small family had celebrated her second birthday with a simple cake. They’d laughed as the child smeared vanilla frosting across her lips, watched as her window on the world opened a teensy bit wider.
There were no guests or relatives in attendance. Their families weren’t the close-knit types and the road between his mother and Jacquie had grown longer. It began in a hospital nursery, three years earlier, with the birth of Annie. It was once more repeated as his mother inadvertently cast a spell upon the forehead of Madeline Jane.
“That woman. Once again, she has the nerve to tell me, ‘had you a boy, I wouldn’t have come to the hospital for a look-see,’ ” Jacquie fumed. “Bolt the door. I hope she never comes back.”
It began with a windswept beach and a salty kiss. It ended in a hurricane.
Channeling Hadley Richardson Hemingway. Playing with ‘Winston’.
Morning shivers breaking dawn. A sliver of sunlight slips through the open window. The first sparrow’s chirrup, ‘Wake up, Wake up. Wake up.’ From somewhere down the street, a child’s laughter scatters like jacks tossed upon cement. A siren screams in the distance. The flowers are silent.
Heaven is on earth.
Do you remember what you said to me, that day, beneath the towering oak? This was long ago, before we knew what would become of us.
You told me that you were staying by my side. There was steel truth to your words.
And now you glance off as if afraid to see your reflection in my eyes. Yet you keep coming back to the one thing that could disarm you.
excerpt from a draft scene~ a word or two on The Detectives and Birdie
The setting: Bing’s Palace
At the mention of Birdie, Gladys waved her fingers on both hands to signify wings. She turned, eased past the two sailors to speak with the host. “That one, toward the back wall-” and pointed to a section of round tables placed beneath a silk wall screen adorned with merchant tea schooners. “Once it’s cleared, we’ll take it,” she said.
Marsha glanced toward the back of the restaurant. It was obvious this group thought they were something special. Dark suits, glints of gold. One look told her these players were high rollers and not afraid to be seen in public. Booze was in plain view. They’d brought their own bottles and she watched as Jimmy the accountant, topped up the half filled glasses. Notes swayed above the other diners, rang out, and lingered within the room. It was a deliberate distortion of pitch and timbre, a down tempo layer over a backdrop of clatter. Birdie.
The wink from Gladys, told Marsha, that her partner had similar thoughts. ”Sit beside me,” she whispered. “Better view of our targets.”
“Ladies.” The host bowed and motioned for the women to follow. As he pulled out their chairs, he asked, ”Water?”
Gladys agreed. “Two. Tea, as well.”
The young man smiled and lowered his gaze. “I’ll get your waiter, ma’am.” With a half bow, he turned and headed toward the kitchen.
Gladys leaned over. “Watch,” she said.
Marsha looked at the group and saw two fingers rise above the men’s heads. Even from a distance, she could see that the woman’s finger- tips resembled rubies. The fingers snapped for service. Suddenly, a doe eyed face with raven hair piled atop a perfectly formed head, peeked from behind the child seated next to her: Birdie, beautiful songstress, club noir.
Marsha watched as the host paused mid step. Everyone knew that pretty face. Birdie Song was a soul seductress and local celebrity, known to ‘bring the house down’. A tempest, she held sway at the Five Note, an after hours jazz club, modeled after its sister joint in New York City. Word on the street was that Birdie had made it big and everyone agreed, “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.”
Birdie’s finger- tips fluttered like butterflies over the blonde head of a tiny girl. She pointed toward a glass, cocked her head to the side, spoke to the child, and smiled at the waiter.
Marsha had to agree with the ad man who wrote the singer’s stage headline, ‘even a hurricane can’t extinguish this gal’s flame.’ Birdie’s lipstick was the shade of pale pink carnation. Here she sat a bloom, as if in a garden, tempting snakes and fate. Birdie Song was the Queen Bee of the honey pot.
One of the men seated at the table looked back toward the front door. He appeared uneasy as if checking to see if anyone familiar was seated in the restaurant. Satisfied, he turned and spoke to the child seated to his right. His hand warmed her shoulder.
Stars quiver in darkness
Shy of love’s light
The heavens are silent
when an angel takes flight
Hush a bye darling
You’re not alone
Safe in his arms
He’ll carry you home.
and I don’t remember much about us. Not the season that we met. I hope it was spring. I thought I was just another girl on your list. Did you keep a list? You were kind. I don’t recall our kisses in the dark. I do. I still see your face. Dark eyes narrowed as if mining for lies. This is truth. You made me smile. You met me in storms and sunshine. You held my hand and walked me home. In those moments I wasn’t alone. You convinced me I was pretty and when I needed you to stay, you left.