Torch Song

"Fame is a will of the wisp."

That's what Chantal warns whenever I steer the conversation back to the memoir. Years of unfiltered camels and bourbon have scarred her singing voice and made a muddle of her thinking. Several rude comments nearly snark their way to my lips, but just in time, I remember I promised myself I would be kind today. So instead, I smile and stomp the heel of my right size eleven stiletto smartly on the large bunion bulging from my left big toe.

That shuts me up.

Chantal doesn't even notice my watering eyes or the hiss of pain that escapes between clenched teeth. No, she just prattles on about musical theatre. When I tune in again, she is breathless, describing some new off-off Broadway show with a cast made up entirely of performing animals. Something about promenading poodles and a one hundred year old terrapin. When I say ‘turtle', Chantal frowns and the lines of her face harden into a scowl.

"Ah, well," I say, "such is the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd." I quickly divert her back to theatre talk, aware of how close I came to a full blown tantrum. She's never dealt gracefully with criticism.

"Remember that underground club in Brooklyn?"

She bats her false eyelashes at me and I wonder who she bribed to do her makeup today. Certainly not the ward nurse. A harridan if I ever saw one, down to the camo t-shirt he wears over lavender scrubs. Today it is buttoned behind a lab coat, but I know it reads, ‘Your mother wears army boots'. He has no patience for Chantal and I always worry when he's in charge. Certainly not him, but someone had carefully lined her dark eyes with kohl, highlighted sharp cheekbones with powdered blush that almost hides the stubble along her jawline.

Chantal is silent for so long, I think she's forgotten me entirely. Then her face lights up in one of her trademark stage smiles and I know she's back in '71.

"Bat Segundo sent me flowers again." Her eyes are dreamy, unfocused. The first owner of the GalleyCat lounge, he's been dead and buried nearly twenty three years. But he's always alive in her scrambled memory. "Such a lovely man, don't you think?"

I blush and drop my head, suddenly jealous of a man who died before I was born. But he heard Chantal sing and I never did. At least not they way the old timers remember.

"Shall I sing for you?"

She doesn't wait for my answer, she never does. Instead her husky voice croons what might be a lullaby. Random snippets of conversation and television dialogue mingle in some demented parody of scat singing.

". . . won't you drop and give me ten. . .Books?" She trails off, losing the thread of her purpose. "Kisses? Chocolates? Cigarettes?" Her voice stretches higher with each suggestion and I know I've stayed too long again.

Miss Snark is misty eyed. Well, ok, not really of course but she knows she should be so she dabs her eye with a lace hankie to feign sentiment. (Miss Snark hasn't been sentimental since that ugly incident with the Poodles Playing Poker velvet painting back in 'ought 5)

Scoring to come


Sam said...


JLB said...

Very creative... I love how the setting creeps up on the reader, and I can just see and hear Chantal scatting away!

Anonymous said...

Isn't it aught 5, not 'ought five?
(or maybe no apostrophe?)

Sal said...

I used "aught" just last week. Comes from being a San Francisco girl -- we all have aught-six on our minds right now.

I checked to make sure that "aught" was right and found out that "aught" was "also ought."

Definition provided by The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2004.

McKoala said...

Like this one too; poignant.