StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

A Sorcerer on Montmartre – (Chapter Six)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on June 12, 2014

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A Sorcerer on Montmartre

By Kyle Thomas Smith

© 2013

Sixth chapter from the novel I’m writing

(Click the following for Chapters 1234, 5678910 (p. i)10 (p.2)10 (p.3)111213)

CHAPTER SIX:

CHELSEA NIGHT & DAY

Once past Canal Street, Belinda and Simon were well on their way to Chelsea Night & Day Diner, courtesy of Mapquest, which they had logged on to one night at an Econo Lodge in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, while they both had been wearing Nuetrogena mud masks and a couple Rita Hayworth-era nightgowns that Belinda had picked up thrift-diving in her days out west. If that weren’t enough, they also had been watching All About Eve on Turner Classic Movies. It was one of the first movies Simon had seen that didn’t involve either Bible patriarchs or Charlton Heston, so he had scarcely been able to tear his eyes off the TV screen long enough to map the best route from the Holland Tunnel to 7th Avenue and 14th Street.

No matter how hooked he had been on the title character’s cunning, though, it wasn’t enough to keep his mind off all the drag on his own body. The letters where St. Paul inveighs against the Romans doing these kinds of things had scrolled through his mind on continuous loop, but he’d told himself the second-hand, crepe-de-chine nightgown was all there was for him to sleep in since he didn’t have pajamas (they weren’t in either of the Hefty bags he’d snatched from Menard’s lawn). It hadn’t been long, though, before he was flouncing around the motel room like Caligula in his seashell-collecting phase, doing Anne Baxter and Bette Davis impressions from the moment the end credits had rolled, and Belinda, guzzling New Amsterdam Gin straight out of the bottle, had been thrilled to see he had it in him—he’d need it for where they were going.

Simon could see why they called Sixth Avenue, Avenue of the Americas. It looked like everyone from both American continents—and most of Asia, Africa, Europe and maybe even Antarctica—had either driven in to clog up traffic or had at some point parachuted in to swamp the sidewalks. He had long heard you practically had to rob a bank to pay a month’s rent in the buildings they drove past, but the facades were still as grimy and sooty as the garbage-laden pavement. Imposing as they were in their dirt and dominion from Soho to the Village, the buildings seemed to grow even taller and bolder the farther they edged uptown, and the horizon promised no end of towers. However, just as Belinda turned west to go to Seventh Avenue and Simon wondered if he would ever find any room to breathe in this megalopolis, a parking spot opened up right in front of Chelsea Night & Day and they were able to pull right into it.

“I’m calling Robert O,” said Belinda as she threw blankets over their bags in the backseat. Simon stepped out of the car, fed the meter with a stack of quarters and walked to the middle of the sidewalk as Belinda made her call from the curb. A light snow started swirling around Simon as he stood stock-still among the masses thronging down the avenue on this leaden-sky, late-winter Saturday afternoon. He knew he was pushing his luck by taking up space where there was none, but no one hassled him. In fact, one woman accidentally bumped into him and said, “Oh, I’m sorry,” and he said, “No trouble at all, ma’am,” and she looked back and smiled at his civility. Everybody else just weaved around him like creek water to a boulder. In the course of only a couple minutes, he had already seen several men holding hands with other men, some while carrying shopping bags, and nobody hassled them either. No one made it their business like they would have in Wizard’s Stone.

As Belinda wrapped up her phone call, Simon turned one way, slowly, and looked in the eyes of a man in a camelhair overcoat, who walked toward him and past him. Simon noted, That guy doesn’t want to beat me up. He turned another way and made eye contact with a tough-looking Italian guy in a black leather jacket, who also kept walking past. Him either, Simon observed, even if I am…y’know…the third sex. His soul thrilled at how he was still standing on the same slab of concrete, not getting knocked over. If I knew any songs from that cat show Connie saw at that Winter Garden place, he told himself, I might be singin’ ’em now!—heck, if it’s still in town, maybe I’ll even go see it…once I’m settled in.

Belinda grabbed his arm and marched him to the restaurant door. “He’s meeting us here,” she said, “He works nearby.” Simon left his feel-good moment behind and opened the frosted glass door for Belinda like a gentleman, a hoary patriarchal custom Simon suspected Beauvoir would have abhorred but Belinda knew Simon could never shake as a southerner.

Once inside, Belinda unwrapped her long black scarf and soaked up the atmosphere. In one corner sat a preoperative transgender female with beefy forearms, a mane of goldilocks ringlets and stubble that was only a week or so away from growing into a full beard. She was drinking hot cocoa in a booth with a frowsy old man who wore a blue Yankees cap, a red plaid flannel shirt, and gray polyester pants held up by both suspenders and a belt. The trans woman seemed to be doing all the talking and all the gesticulating at the table as the old man warmed his palms on his cocoa, with his head down, half-listening in the same daze it looked like he’d been in for years. Some other tables were full of much younger men—white, black, Filipino, Puerto Rican—dressed with much more expense and savvy than the old man, many of them with big muscles that showed through their shirts and sweaters as each vied to get a word in at their tables with as much avidity and gesticulation as the old man’s companion, often forgetting all they’d been fighting to say as a result. Over the crackling speakers, Carolyn Johnson from The Exciters warbled something about how she knows something about love. A few old ladies in fuzzy sweaters were having Celestial Seasonings Lemon Zinger or Darjeeling tea with cherry pie, carrying on like gravel-voiced sopranos doing recitatives in a yenta operetta. A longtime unwashed man in longtime unwashed clothes stood stooped at the side counter and the cashier came by with a bag of leftovers for him from the kitchen. “Here ya go, hun,” she said, “A whole bag. Just take it outside, ’kay? We’re pretty slammed.”

As the stooped-shouldered vagrant shuffled out, the same cashier-cum-hostess came up to Belinda with a couple menus (never minding Belinda’s black-arts appearance, Simon noted, she just didn’t seem to care like places back home did), “Hi, sweetie. Two?”

“There’ll be three, actually,” Belinda answered, “But my other friend will be a while.”

As they followed the cashier-cum-hostess to their table, Belinda rubbed Simon’s arm. “Good call, kid,” she said, looking around the room. Never before this moment had Simon felt two high-highs in a single day, but now not only had he had his sidewalk epiphany but he-who-knew-nothing-about-the-world had shown something new to she-who-knew-all, she who had ten years on him and had brought him all this way.

Simon took off his rust-orange down jacket (providentially, it was in one of the Hefty bags he’d seized, unlike his p.j.’s) and rubbed his hands together as he took his seat. The waitress wasn’t at their table yet but still he said, “Cocoa, pronto!” with a chuckle and smiled at Belinda who looked up, snapped open her menu and looked down again, not smiling back. He knew that look. She’d given it to him lots of times. It meant he was being a dork again and not in a cute way. The look seemed harsher now than ever too. Somehow it was uncool to say “cocoa, pronto” and everybody was just supposed to know that or be penalized with a glare.

Simon pulled down the hem of the V-neck sweater he was wearing. In Wizard’s Stone, he rarely had to wear winter clothes, so he didn’t have any besides the down coat, which meant that up here he was forced to double up on t-shirts to stay warm—the one he wore on top was an Atlanta Falcons t-shirt, and the name showed, making him out to be an even bigger hayseed among these east-coast sophisticates (the old man in the Yankees cap being the lone exception)—under a holey black wool sweater that Belinda had come prepared with. Belinda had fished the ill-fitting sweater out of one her suitcases in Pennsylvania and told him to put it on. She’d said she’d take him shopping for one that fit later. The sweater clung to his chest, even though she had bigger breasts than he did (she was no Dolly Parton but he was ribcage-flat), it only went down to his navel and the cuffs barely cleared the flesh between his wrists and forearms. Simon looked over at the dandies a few tables away, who spoke as glibly and looked as decked-out as Cleopatra’s court, and his heart plunged at the thought of how much catch-up ball he’d have to play out here. But, then again, all of them also looked to be about Belinda’s age, so maybe there was hope for him cooling out in time.

Simon pored over the menu, which wasn’t altogether different from the one at Desiree’s. There was the chicken club sandwich and there was the double-decker cheeseburger and they had breakfast all-day and he surmised from the picture that home fries were just another variation on hash browns. But Chelsea Night & Day’s prices dwarfed Desiree’s like Goliath did David. Simon doubted he could stick it to Chelsea Night & Day the way the puny future king did the giant, and the way he himself had stuck it to A&W and Applebee’s and all those other restaurants on the way to Manhattan, the ones that had the gall to charge customers money in exchange for food and services. Based on what he had seen so far, it seemed this diner was a microcosm of New York itself and, from what he had seen so far, this city was no place he’d want to monkey with.

Furthermore, even if he were powerful enough, or slick enough or lucky enough, to come out on top in a clash of wills with it, even if he could bring it down with a slingshot, he wouldn’t want the giant to fall or even stumble. It seemed an oddly friendly giant despite rumors to the contrary from people like Connie. Look at all the people who had found belonging here. Look how many people already had had their chance to beat him up on 7th Avenue but didn’t. Look how the lady at the counter gave the beggar food. Suddenly he found himself following the urge to risk looking like a dork again to tell Belinda, “I think we should pay this time,” and he even dared to look at her like he wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Belinda screwed up her face and leaned across the table, whispering, “Of course we’re fucking paying. You think I’m stupid? We gotta pay from now on.” For however much Belinda played the stiletto-packing mandarin, she also watched her share of the boob tube on the sly, including almost every season of NYPD Blue. She took the show’s thugs at their word when they said almost—almost—nothing gets past the law casing every joint in this town. After coming this far, the last thing she wanted was to end up in Rikers, which she was pretty sure would make for even worse bondage than the human condition itself. As for Simon, he was just breathing a sigh of relief that, for one thing, they wouldn’t be shoplifting when she’d take him shopping for that new sweater. He was already thinking of retiring his Barabbas jersey, which fit him worse than that sweater he had on.

Belinda closed her menu and flagged the waitress, who was finishing up with another table, “Robert O says start without him. He’s in the middle of a Baylage, plus extensions.”

“I know just what I want,” Simon cheered.

The waitress came by. Belinda ordered a cob salad and a coffee, no milk. Simon ordered a Belgian waffle with strawberries and ice cream, home fries and a large vanilla malted milkshake.

“You’re having all that,” Belinda jerked in her seat.

“It’s time to celebrate!”

“He’s a growing boy. Give him what he wants,” the waitress enjoined, “Whatcha celebratin’, doll?”

Simon said, “Moving to New York.”

“Oh, yeah? From where?”

Belinda sat mute with the same glower that had hung on her face when she’d heard Simon’s order, so Simon assumed stewardship of the conversation, “Georgia.”

“Ah, for school?”

“No. Just…look for a job. Start over.”

“What do you do?”

“Well,” he said, “I worked in a restaurant, a lot like this. And on the street, I saw lots of restaurants, so…”

“What are you looking to do?”

“You know, go in for some busboy work…wash dishes, that kinda thing.”

“That’s what you did before?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The waitress gave him a big once-over, “Got a place to stay?”

“We’re staying with a friend for now.”

“Whereabouts?”

Simon drew a blank so Belinda jumped in, “Lower East Side.”

“What’s your name, sweetie?”

“Simon.”

“Simon, I’m Margie. How about you come with me?”

Margie took Simon to Paula, the cashier-cum-hostess who also turned out to be the owner. To anyone looking, it might have gone down as one of the fastest, most unexpected interviews in the history of job hunting. Chelsea Night & Day just happened to be needing a busboy who also could help with doing dishes. All Simon had to do was give Paula a thumbnail account of a typical day at Desiree’s, lie a little and say he’d worked there a year instead of eight months and add he wasn’t just passing through and that his residence (he didn’t even know what street Robert O’s apartment was on) was semi-permanent enough for him to show up to work on time. After telling her everything she wanted to hear for now, Paula paused, nodded and told him he could start training after the lunch shift on Monday. He could fill out paperwork then. She also told him how much he’d be making and it was a dollar more an hour than at Desiree’s, plus part of the tips. “Thank you, ma’am,” he said, gasping like he’d just won the $100,000 Pyramid, “Thank you,” slathering on the southern twang, not just for charm but so Paula would know that Immigration wouldn’t be on her back since no one but an American could sport that drawl. (He also wondered if Paula was the one who, so many years before, had played the antagonist in “The V8 Incident” but she seemed too nice, but then again he also expected age might have mellowed her since the eighties.) Margie the waitress smiled, said welcome aboard and told him she’d be right on over with their food and just this once their late lunch would be on her. Simon thanked both women with Dixie alacrity and returned to Belinda, whose frown was now supplanted by raised eyebrows and nodding.

“Boy, things sure happen fast up here,” Simon said with a lot of huffing and even pinched himself, “And with me looking like this!” Once again, he pulled down the ratty sweater’s hem.

Belinda folded her arms and nodded, “Now we can tell Robert O you got a job already. How’d you manage that?”

Simon threw back his shoulders and puffed out his chest to the point where buttons would have popped off, had he been wearing a professional shirt, “It must be that Sorcerer magic of mine.”

“You’re a busboy. Don’t get cocky.”

“My conjure-man wiles.”

“Leave daddy back home, Simon.”

“Why, what you think it is?”

“You’re in the right place. The Universe is telling you something.”

“You mean a sign?”

“Yes.”

“Well, Belinda Quell, I do declare! Sounds like you think there’s something up there arranging things for us.”

“Even I have my less skeptical moments—don’t get used to them.”

“Oh, Belinda,” Simon leaned in, “I’m sorry. I shoulda got you a job. You want I can—”

“No, Simon. No. I don’t want to work here. I’m happy for you. But no. I’m getting a job somewhere else.”

“Where?”

“We’ll see. But Robert O will be glad to know you’re not just gonna be bumming around his apartment.”

“What’s he like?”

“I think you’ll like him,” Belinda said, “He’s Mexican, so he’s got a certain respectfulness about him.” That’s all she said on the matter and Simon wasn’t at all sure what to make of it, although he did remember the Mexicans in Desiree’s kitchen were all salt of the earth when they weren’t taking time out to horse around and moon each other or pucker up and say uno beso to the waitresses carrying orders out of the kitchen.

Margie brought out the food. “For a new colleague,” she smiled as she presented the dishes.

“Thanks, Margie,” Simon beamed, “Oh, this is my friend Belinda.”

“Pleasure,” Margie said out the side of her mouth, not feeling the need to extend a royal welcome to a banshee who wouldn’t so much as look up at a middle-age waitress in a burgundy apron giving her free food. Meanwhile, a group of tourists at a neighboring table sat in giggling awe of the mountains of vanilla ice cream, whip cream and preserved strawberries sitting atop Simon’s waffles, not to mention his pearl-opaque milkshake, and he giggled right along with them all as he dug into the squishy heap with his spoon.

Belinda hid her face, “Are you going to be a total spaz-attack when Rob gets here?”

“Huh?”

“All that sugar.”

“I have hash browns too, Belinda. Salt takes the edge off sugar.”

“Remember, they’re called home fries here. Home fries.”

Lifting a fork to her cob salad, Belinda couldn’t break focus from Simon’s wolfish sugar consumption, wondering if he’d be fat by morning. Meantime, he went right on tunneling through his late-lunch, but halfway in, got an ice-cream headache and had to stop. As Simon held his eye with one hand and gripped a chair leg with the other, the long-awaited guest appeared on the door runner, surveying the room as he dusted snow off his gray herringbone scarf, tied in a European Loop that draped down his multi-zippered, black cashmere jacket. A lot of the dandies’ eyes settled on him, setting off highly individualized fantasies all around the room.

“Mortitia,” the swarthy man intoned, “As I live and breathe.” Belinda vaulted from her chair and tore over to him. She hugged him and jumped up and down, and hugged him and jumped up and down, and hugged him again with lots of two-cheek kisses as though Robert O had just come back from war, albeit after trading in his fatigues for haute couture, with red hair dye, not blood, on his hands. Simon thought maybe he should go over and say hi but they were making such a spectacle and he could see his new boss watching the spectacle as though it were nothing but a spectacle, so he decided to stay out of it. Belinda ran the palm of her hand all over Robert O’s tawny shaved head and tiny black Mohawk. “What’s happened to all those gorgeous locks and waves?” she asked.

“Ain’t you been readin’, bitch? The butch is back-back-back,” Robert O said snapping his fingers between each iteration of the word back.

Belinda threaded his scarf through her fingers, “I hardly call this butch, m’dear.”

Margie came by to refill Belinda’s coffee while Belinda was still up front with Robert O. As she poured, she whispered to Simon, “I’m only buying two lunches, okay?”

Simon said, “Oh, Margie, this one’s on us.”

“Yours is still on me. And your lady friend’s. But—”

“Understood, ma’am. Understood.”

Margie patted his shoulder and walked off. Simon looked down at his waffles, fearing that Belinda and Robert O had just blown the good impression he’d hoped to make on Margie and Paula. Once his eyes took in all the ice cream and whip cream dripping down his plate, though, Simon forgot all about good impressions and his fading ice-cream headache and started scarfing everything down again. This, in turn, would become the first impression he’d be making on Robert O whom Belinda had just now drawn up to the table.

“Well,” said Belinda to Robert O, “He requires no introduction, does he?”

“Holy shit balls,” Robert O shrieked, stepping back and wincing as though he were witnessing a python swallowing a rabbit whole, “Does he always eat like that?”

“Good metabolism,” said Belinda.

“Not if he keeps it up,” said Robert O.

Through this whole exchange, Simon had stopped eating and was looking up at them both with his spoon halfway to his mouth. He had ice-cream glaze on his lips and some powdered sugar at a corner of his mouth. A creamy waffle chunk dropped off his spoon as he looked at Robert O, lean and ravaged-handsome, the kind whom even Simon could tell knew how to work a club (and Simon had never even been to a club, much less seen a roué work one). Simon remembered his manners, got up, wiped his palms off on his pants and held out his hand to Robert O, “I’m—”

“I fucking know you,” Robert O said and began futzing with Simon’s hair, “Needs work. It’s almost matted.”

Margie intervened, “Is this your third party?”

Robert O turned to look at her wide-eyed but Simon had the instinct to step up before Robert O could say something smart, “Yes, Margie. Sorry we’re standing here. Can I help clear dishes? Just let me know where to take ’em.”

Margie said to Simon, “Monday,” and she said to Robert O, “Coffee?”

Robert O winked, “It’s the only FDA-approved thing gettin’ me out of bed in the mornings, honey.” Margie turned over his cup and poured, “Please have a seat.” Robert O smiled and sat down in slow motion, like he was easing into a hot bath.

Kyle Thomas Smith is the author of the novel 85A (Bascom Hill, 2010)He lives in Brooklyn, NY with his husband and two cats.

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