She was into candles and smoking pot. What can I say? There was music and revolution in the air, always. Pouring out of the cafes. We met at a friend of a friend’s party in late May and partied out the rest of the Summer, new found friends, and eventually lovers. She had a way about her, a beautiful smile, and a nonchalant, paradoxical way of looking at life, that really took me in. School came by in the Fall and we went our separate ways. We promised to stay in touch but you know how that goes. She left a strawberry scented candle and a nickel bag on my dresser with a sweet love note. I missed her a lot. For a long time.
A mural on an abandoned street in Cairo. A beautiful drawing that folks say is called Tiye, The Birth Of An Egyptian Princess. Abayomi walks by every day and leaves flowers underneath this imaginary art and whispers brief prayers of solitude. Folks say be careful, you might get arrested in these dangerous times. Abayomi says if getting arrested for paying homage to an ancient princess is a crime, let me get arrested. Eventually he does get arrested and no one ever hears from him again. Folks swear if you look long enough you can begin to see a teardrop emerge beneath the princess’s eye.
Flying across Toronto, we were hitch-hiking, thumbs out, headed for the West coast, NY to Montreal, now approaching Toronto, some highway, yet to land in the city.
He pulled over, suddenly, shoulder, smile, cigarette side of his mouth, Mercedes, I think.
We jumped in!
Jack was in the front seat, me rear. Off we went. To the races. Literally.
He shot out like a rocket, no I am serious, that was ok, we all laughed, cigarette from his mouth.
A German fellow in Toronto, with a Mercedes. Is this how they drive in Germany? We looked at each other, sure, both thinking Autobahn, no speed limits.
I was peering over his shoulder, 60, 70, 80.
He was chatting, merrily, laughing, as if on a chaise lounge at a pool. Dressed carefully, dapper I would say.
He kept chatting, turning towards Jack, looking back at me, 85, 90, 95.
I think Jack and I were getting a little uptight, but he just kept it up.
I must admit he was a smooth driver. No he is not just going down an open road, on the straightaway, no it was not like that. He was weaving in and out, gliding almost, like a hang glider (I thought of those WW I planes), never stopped chatting turning, smiling, cigarette, looking at the road.
95, 100, 110.
Jack and I were definitely getting uptight but what could we do? We stayed cool, and laughed along. The ride ended as quickly as it began. Wow! That was fast.
We got out and thanked the gentleman, this crazy man, and he sped away as if taking off in an airplane. We just looked at each other, and then… burst out laughing. After all we were young and invincible, life was beautiful, this German guy was insane, but pure and innocent, like a bungee jumper.
She is looking out over the bridge, away into the sky, her hair mostly uncombed, disheveled, but beautiful. She is wearing night clothers, for summer; it is summer, it is hot, the water is blue and sparkling. But somehow she is between two places, an open, dreary sky and a bright bridge under moonlight, intense moonlight.
Things have been difficult; her marriage has fallen apart; she is facing drug possession charges, a small amount, but in this state that could mean time, hard time.
Her captor has offered her escape, for benefits, a love with benefits, maybe three months, maybe six, it would be worse behind bars. She whispers it will drive the final stake into her marriage.
But her ex is far away, in New York, he left when she started to tailspin, lose control. Now he calls, but he is helpless, no matter what he claims, he cannot effect the legal outcome.
And she is in California, on a bridge, between nowhere and somewhere, deciding whether to jump or walk her only plank to safety.
Old man Decker never liked kids; on Halloween he used to leave sour crab apples at the edge of his property; if you ate one you would get sick. All year long we would plot, how to put the trick back into trick or treat and even up the score with old man Decker. So we would go to the edge of his property, all of us, with sticks, and stones and look at his house from afar. This is how it looked. We would not go any further. We dared not go any further. We could not figure out what the hell was going on.
Years later, long after I had moved away, I read in a local paper that old man Decker’s house had burned down. He had died earlier, so no one was killed in the fire. I could not resist driving the 50 or so miles, back to my old home town, to see what was left of the house, a house that was so much a part of my childhood. A crowd of people were milling around, and the general consensus was wherever old man Decker was these days, his diet was strictly a diet of sour crab apples.
She was slightly dizzy, buxom, innocent. He was not sure how he wound up with her, it didn’t make sense.
She was much more Hollywood than New York, he thought, though her bubbly personality made it easier for her to fit in.
At that time he was running a chess parlour on 42nd street. A somewhat odd business, but it paid the bills and for her. She had expensive tastes, not intentionally, it just was the way she lived. Especially perfumes, and bracelets; she adored beautiful bracelets and expensive perfumes.
He was thinking of her summer habit of walking out on the balcony in the early morning, tossing her hair back, hands on the rail, sipping a coffee, touching the dew, pale neck, no makeup. He wanted to take a photo, or a hundred photos but she wouldn’t let him.
It started quite some time ago, back in high school, he joined the chess club, something to do, a way to belong. He picked it up from his uncle, father’s side, who was a VP and lived in the city, Brooklyn. He belonged to the prestigious Manhattan Chess Club. And his friend Albert, a great player from high school.
That was awhile ago, time passed, in the early 70s he took to riding down to the city, and wandering the streets, an urban explorer. His family had lived in Manhattan for quite some time, then his dad took them to the suburbs. His aunt still lived in the village, though he hardly ever saw her.
He chanced upon a chess club on 42nd street, up the stairs, smoke, coffee filled. All the guys (overwhelmingly) who never made it to the Manhattan or fancy clubs, for one reason or another. You paid a few dollars, and got so much time. Street chess. Sometimes even near fights broke out, unheard of for chess players. Arguments yes, but not fights.
And then one day, she walked up the stairs, into his chess club and into his life.
He is looking out of the window of his co-op, and dreaming, sipping his coffee, thinking, wondering.
The note she left is on the table, by the cigarettes. Her flight is probably in the air, to LA. He wishes her safety.
She is gone now, her perfume still lingers in the hallways, the dining room, the stairs, his senses.
He calls his real estate agent the next morning and puts his place on the market.
Another chapter, this one would not be forgotten anytime soon.
The Queen has left the chess board, an unscheduled, unofficial move.
This game is over.