After spending nearly seven hours on a motor, I headed over to “Sloppy Joe’s” to catch the remainder of Stacey’s three to seven o’clock gig. While Stacey played the “Peanuts” song, the bar maid served me an ice water with a beer back.
She ended her set by playing the “Layla” piano riff. She greeted me at the bar with a hug and kiss which I gladly returned.
“Since we’re both here, why don’t we eat,” she said. “My treat.”
“Sounds good to me.”
She looked at me, and then laughed.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
“I had an idea for a set and wanted to run it past you.”
“That’s funny?” I asked. “Your sets are ever changing. Why would you need my help?”
“I want to add you to my act.”
“That would be a bad idea. I can’t sing, dance, or play a musical instrument. What would I do? Walk out with a tool box and bang on it with a hammer?”
“No,” she said, laughing. “My idea is for you to come out while I perform a song, dressed in an incredibly sexy gown and then take a seat on the piano like the old Burt Bacharach and Angie Dickinson Martini and Rossi commercials.”
I fell back against the bar and dropped my head. Unsure of how to react to her request, my initial thoughts had been to lash out in anger and accuse her of using me as the brunt of a joke. At the same time, she’d asked for help. If this action would be a step along the way, it would be a bazaar one.
“Do I have to give you an answer now?” I mumbled.
“You’ll think about doing it?” she asked tentatively.
“I don’t know,” I said as rose to leave
I walked out of “Sloppy Joe’s” ignoring her shouts of “Wait, please wait.”
As I headed back to my apartment thinking that my attempts at a new life free of bounds had been fragile, I detoured to the ocean to search beyond where ocean meets sky for the reason for my mixed reaction to her request. It occurred to me that my struggle with her request had been caused by limits and adjectives. The longer I clung to joining the two persons within me, the longer it took to join them. Understanding that there had been pleasure in my pain caused me to believe that holding things could spoil them. I’d have to let go.
“Steve, could we talk?” Stacey asked, when she found me at my apartment.
“Can I tell you something about me?” she asked, as I nodded. “My battle stems from believing that people want to consume me. I felt like that when you offered to help me. I thought that you’d be like everyone else, but you’re not. At times I feel that you’re so self absorbed that the last thing that you’d want is me, and then there’s other times when I want you to consume me.” She began sobbing uncontrollably and fumbled her pack of cigarettes to the ground. I picked one up lit it and handed it to her. She drew deeply against it. “When I started to play the piano, my parents and teachers took my life away. I lived by the relentless tick of the metronome. Everything had been planned. They wanted me to go to Julliard and give recitals at Carnegie Hall. Scale practice in the morning followed by the endless classes in classical music study. My only relief came from sneaking off to play at parties and the occasional club. The pressure became so intense that I had a breakdown. So, I ran away. I borrowed a friend’s bike and left my parent’s charge cards behind. I didn’t want them to find me.”
I looked deep into her tear filled walnut-colored eyes. “The hardest thing in life is to let go. If you can do that everything in life will unfold before you. I spend every moment struggling to let go. It’s easy to say, but so hard to do. If you are willing we could work together to let go.”
We held each other as we did when we made love. Time and space ceased to exist.
Stacey spent the night in my bed, while I spent it in a wooden chair. I watched her sleep. It had been a restless one filled with the demons that drove her to what she defined as an independent life free from what she termed consumption. My night had been filled with thoughts of my next move. I recalled my words to my wife when I left her. “If you don’t’ hear from me within a year I’ve either committed suicide or found my way.” Suicide represented defeat, but finding my way represented hard work. I’d worked long and hard for others, yet never worked hard for myself. With new resolve and determination I’d let go.
“You’re awake,” I said as I watched her shake off her restless sleep with arm and leg stretches.
“Mmmm,” she said between the stretches.
“When do rehearsals start?”
“What?” she asked through residual signs of sleep.
“When do we start rehearsals for your set?” I asked in matter of fact tones.
“You’ll do it?” she asked, as she sat up in bed with the bed sheet covering her breasts.
“I’ll give it a try.”
“You’ll be fine. If it works out the way I intend, it’ll be easy.”
“Well then, where, and when?”
“I’ll arrange it with the ‘Howard Johnson’s’ entertainment manager to use the piano in the ballroom. It’s only used on Saturdays so we’ll have a day to rehearse. You won’t need that much. Meet me in the ballroom at eight o’clock tonight.” She hopped out of bed and hugged and kissed me.
We dressed and went our separate ways.
I left the marina and headed toward the “Howard Johnson’s.” She’d already arrived and upon my entrance, she stopped her practice. She’d been playing “I Go to Rio” We hugged each other.
“Okay, this is how it will happen,” she said. “You’ll be standing off to the side, out of sight. When I give you the signal, you’ll glide out onto the stage and lay across the piano and say, ‘yeh’ after the song and then we’ll face the audience. I’ll then play the last song of the set and then we’ll take a bow and walk off. They’ll be the last two songs of the night.”
“What songs do you intend to use?”
“Could it be a surprise?”
The signal would be she throwing her head back and looking at the ceiling. We tried it a number of times and it seemed to work to her satisfaction. No songs had been played, just scales and fills.
“Do I have your permission to pick a costume?” she asked cautiously.
“Sure,” I said.
I spent the day of the performance wrestling with the ignition system of a mid 1930’s ski boat and thoughts of the show. Without a talented bone in my body visions of tripping and falling on my face while walking to the piano filled me. I headed over to the hotel and arrived at six o’clock thinking that this event would be another step along the way.
“Good, you’re here,” she said, as I walked into the ballroom. “Meet Ginny. She’s the make-up artist for the Key West Drama Festival. She’ll do your make-up and help you with your costume. Don’t worry, you’ll be great,” she said after a quick embrace.
I followed Ginny into a storeroom and took a seat in the makeshift dressing room. A merlot colored chiffon dress hung from the door and I presumed it to be the costume.
As I sat in the chair wearing my briefs, Ginny began work. She glued bits of rubber on parts of my face and injected saline in others. The application seemed endless. The work ended with the placement of a mid-back, loosely curled, raven-colored wig.
“Let’s get you dressed, it’s getting late.” She’d spent the better part of three hours working on my face. I couldn’t imagine what had been done. “Stand up. I have to put this waist cincher and this padded bra on you. Put these stockings and heels on while I get your jewelry.”
She returned with rhinestones. Earrings, rings, and a bracelet to be worn over black satin gloves, an ankle bracelet over the black fishnet stockings, a three-rowed necklace, and a tiara. I imagined myself glowing in the dark or at the very least blinding the audience.
“Put your hand on my shoulder to steady yourself and then step into the dress. It’s extra long so you’d better practice walking in it. You’ll have to pick up the front a bit so you don’t trip over the hem.”
I moved about the confines of the room without incident.
“You’re ready, knock’em dead.”
As she spoke, Stacey entered the room wearing a black sequin gown. She looked radiant.
“You look beautiful,” Stacey said. “ Have you looked in the mirror, yet?”
“No. It’s not necessary. I’ll trust the two of you.”
I didn’t feel it necessary to examine my reflection. I felt and believed that the image would be secondary to the one my mind’s eye. That image would be one of no limits, adjectives, floating on waves and air currents.
“Come on,” Ginny said. “Take a look.”
“I’ve got to go it’s time for my first set. You two work it out,” Stacey said, as she headed toward the stage.
“Okay Ginny, let’s go have a look at your handy work,” I said, as we made our way to the ladies room.
My thoughts had been to show appreciation to Ginny for her efforts. My reaction to the physical reflection would be a tribute to her.
Once inside, she left me standing alone in front of the full-length mirror. The image reflected back was one of extreme beauty. I looked like nothing I’d ever seen. I appeared to have the look of Rita Heyworth, Ava Gardner, Angie Dickinson, and Elizabeth Taylor rolled into one. Each time my focus changed I looked different.
“Well, what do you think?” she said as she added her reflection to the mirror.
“You have magic in your hands.”
“It’s not in the hands, Steve,” she asked, as we headed back to the room.
Left alone in the dressing room, I became convinced that that this act would be another step in letting go. Any significance to my actions would be limiting. I’d go with the flow. Stream-like.
Between sets, Stacey came in to check on me.
“How’s it going? You’re not too uncomfortable?”
“No.” I said quietly. “I’ve been dressed like this before. Little more jewelry than usual, but I’m quite content.”
“I’m nervous,” she sighed.
“We’ll do it together. We’ll be fine,” I said while I hugged her.
After the second set she suggested that a cigarette would calm me. I declined it.
“Come on, it’s time.”
We walked toward the makeshift stage. I held back out of sight while she walked up to the piano. Beneath the glare of the spotlight she began her set. I had to pay attention due in part to not knowing the song she’d picked. The wait seemed endless.
She began playing the tune “Stage Fright.” She gave me a quick nod that this would be the tune. I smiled as I thought of the words to the song “…see the man with the stage fright, he got caught in the spotlight….” She spoke to me through the song that she’d be fearful of letting go, but would try.
On her cue, bathed in a spotlight, I slithered across the stage, and then up onto the piano, laid down atop it, rested my elbow upon it, placed my chin in my hand, and then faced the audience. The song ended and I said my line. Stacey rose and took a bow. The audience applauded. She began playing the Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weil “Alabama Song” made famous by the Doors — the last tune of the set. When it ended, we both took bows and headed off. The audience’s applause signaled one more song and she obliged. I stood off to the side as she sang “Bridge over Troubled Water.”
She took her final bows, and then headed off stage to greet me with an incredible hug and kiss.
“Thank you so much,” she said between kisses and hugs.
“By the way,” I said. “ ‘The Doors’ do a better version of the ‘Alabama Song.’ ”
She punched me lightly, and then kissed me again.
“Let’s get changed and head over to the ‘Green Parrot’ for a drink.”
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to stay like this a little longer. We could have a drink here if that’s okay.”
We kissed and held each other as we made our way to the bar. Ginny joined us and the three of us enjoyed a congratulatory drink.
After helping us change out of our costumes, Ginny left while we headed back to the apartment. We made love as we had that very first time.
Our lives in the Key West became joined. She found herself and over time I became more comfortable in life’s way. Clothing had lost its importance and the only time that I’d wear anything feminine would be for the Saturday night gig.
Stacey elected to stay after her six months of engagements. She’d developed a local following and had ample off season gigs. I continued to work on the old boats and branched out to service more modern ones.
One day as I worked, the sound of my name startled me.
“Excuse me, are you Steve Barnes?”
I looked up to see a police officer and a professionally dressed woman. “I’m Steve Barnes.”
“I’m Sheila Oaks, and I’m a private detective,” she said while displaying her credentials. “Your wife engaged my firm to find you.”
“Well, you found me. What is it you want?”
“Mrs. Barnes wanted my firm to determine if you were living or dead.”
I stood silent for a moment torn between thoughts that my wife had a concern for my well being and that she wanted my remaining assets.
“How is she? Is she well?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t have that kind of information Mr. Barns.”
“You can report to her that I’m alive.” I managed through sudden hoarseness. “Add that I’ll not be seeing her ever again. Let her know that I’ve found a new life for myself here.”
“She asked that you sign these documents, if and when we discovered your where-a-bouts.” she said while reaching into her briefcase to remove a folder.
I looked through the folder and discovered what I’d thought. Divorce papers and power of attorney over my remaining assets. I wiped a tear from my eyes.
“Do you have a pen?” I asked. With a few strokes Sheila Oaks’ task had been completed. “Do me a favor?”
“What would that be?”
“Let her know that I’ll remember the good times.”
“I’ll do that,” she said, as she accepted the signed documents and placed them back into her case.
They walked off the dock and with them the remainder of my former life.
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