I remember flying into New York City, the afternoon of June 7, on the only direct flight from Rockford, Illinois. Manhattan was shining like a jewel, but it seemed small, like a jewel you could hold in your hand or put in your pocket. I thought, this is the city I am going to conquer. At that moment, lofting over the big buildings and the islands and the very silver water, it didn't seem too hard.
I don't think I was afraid until I was alone in the apartment that night, and the sirens started going. They didn't just start and stop, they went on forever, as if the ambulances just drove around the block with their sirens on. I looked out the window to see what was happening, expecting some kind of hysteria, but people on the streets seemed very calm. The window overlooked the intersection of two big streets, and you could look out it like watching a television, there was so much happening. I couldn't sleep and stayed up for hours, watching yellow streams of taxis driving around, their lights lit, like they were looking for friends. There were so many people on the streets, after midnight, and none of them knew me. In Rockford, there were fewer people but none of them liked me and none of them knew me, either, except as the only guy in fashion school at my college.
I wasn't supposed to be alone in New York. I had two friends there, my friend Simon and his girlfriend, and they were supposed to show me around for a few days before they went to Europe and I housesat their apartment. They were the same people who found me a summer internship in the garment district. We had it all arranged, except I was late because my brother broke two of his girlfriend's fingers and she pressed charges this time and my mother wanted me to stay and talk to the lawyer. So I came to New York by myself.
I can remember everything about that first flight, everything I saw or felt. Right after one o'clock, I was drowsy and did go to bed, and as I was drifting off I thought about the bus ride from the airport, and about New York City. I thought about all the glamorous nightspots, and how I could just get into a taxi and ask to be taken to them, and who I would meet there. But I was also afraid the taxis might drive me around and around, between the sirens, and not let me out and never bring me home.
There was a knock on the door, and I sat up. I knew you had to be careful in New York. I wasn't going to let just anybody into the apartment. But the person kept knocking and wouldn't go away. Finally, I got up and opened the door.
It was a woman, a white woman, and she was very tall. She was probably six feet, which is taller than I am. She had wild hair, brown hair, which stood up in a circle around her head like a dark corona. I don't know how old she was - I guess a little older than the girls at school. She wore red tights on her very long legs.
"He invited me," I said, very crisply, because I hate it when people think I'm a burglar or a criminal just because of the color of my skin. "I'm his friend."
"Oh, no, I didn't mean that," she said. "His girlfriend cheats on him. That's why I wondered."
She walked into the apartment without being invited. "I came to see if I could borrow some of their sculpture magazines, the old ones," she said. "I'm paying my bills and I want to decorate the envelopes. I never let anything go out of my house that isn't some kind of art. Can I come in and look?"
She was already halfway to the spot where the magazines were. "Sure," I said. I was wearing my pajamas.
She crouched down and started sorting through them. "January. May. Here's the new one, but they've probably already read it. I can take these," she said. "So you know his girlfriend. I don't like her much. Do you?"
"No," I said, not knowing why. I actually liked her a lot. "I'm Bartholomew Lewis," I said.
"Bartholomew?" she said. She looked up at me. She had very nice brown eyes and long eyelashes, which I hadn't noticed before because she was so tall.
"My nickname is Lulu," I said. "It's kind of a stupid name for a guy."
"No, it's fabulous," she said, and she sounded sincere. "It's very French. You don't have to change your name, whereas most people do. I'm Diana." She was feeling in the pockets of her skirt. "But I can't introduce myself unless I have my visiting cards, and I left them upstairs. I mean, I take them with me when I go out, but I didn't know I'd be meeting anybody when I came downstairs. I made them myself." She went back to the magazines. "When did you get here?" she asked, turning the pages.
"Today. I'm here for six weeks to work in the fashion district," I said. "I'm a fashion designer."
"Me, too," she said. "I'm also a graphic designer, and a dancer and I'm taking acting classes. And I'm working on a children's book. Look at my palm. See? This line is for artistic perception. It means I'll have extraordinary success."
"I have that line, too," I said, looking at my hand.
All at once, there was a lot of screaming going on outside. I rushed to the window in time to see two raggedy guys duking it out on the street below. One had a purple knit cap, and he was a much better fighter than the other guy, who had a beard. They backed off for a moment when some other guys tried to calm them down, but then they started after each other with broken bottles. The guy with the beard was getting creamed. He had a lot of friends cheering for him but not helping at all.
After a couple of minutes, I could feel Diana sitting behind me. She smelled like soap. I thought of asking her what she thought of the fight, which was getting very bloody. The guys started rolling onto the street in front of cars.
"The moon has a beauty mark tonight," she said suddenly.
"What?" I said.
She didn't say anything. I looked up at the moon, a huge, orange, hanging moon, and it had a brilliant planet right beside it, like a beauty mark by a mouth.
"It's nice," I said, and smiled, and Diana smiled back at me.
When she left, I lay in bed for awhile thinking about her. My brother always calls me a faggot, but I lay there for a long time thinking about her clothes and about her body underneath the clothes. Later, I heard a something by the door, and kind of rustle by the doorway. It was her visiting card slipping beneath the door. Diana Isolde Goldzahl Rose De Milo Taylor, it said. Expect the Unexpected.
It wasn't a very well-designed business card. I put it in my wallet and then I really went to sleep.
I had the address of my summer internship on a piece of my mother's stationery, where I had copied it from the letter Simon sent me, which I had also brought with me to New York just in case I somehow lost the copy. I kept touching it in my pocket while I was on the subway uptown to my first day of work.
Although I'd heard stories about kids getting stabbed or robbed about the subway, I worried more about the crowds crushing my portfolio, which I'd brought along with me. The books are full of stories about people who walk in with their portfolios and become stars right away. Back at home, I'd sorted through it and put my more practical things on top. I like to draw things that are imaginative and wild, sometimes, but I thought it'd be nice if I could sell a few designs here in New York and send my mother money.
"I'll call him," she said. As she dialed, I studied her haircut, which was either really ugly or really fashionable.
I waited a long time in the lobby, though I didn't mind, because they had weeks and weeks worth of W and Women's Wear Daily to go through. I was reading an article about velvet when I heard someone call my name. "Mr. Lewis?" she said.
It was a very large lady wearing a dress with a tiny pattern of angels. "I'm Pat Barks," she said. "Come with me."
I followed her down the hall. The carpet changed as we got further away from the reception area, and the walls weren't painted the same nice pink.
"Are you a designer?" I asked her as we walked.
"No, no. I'm in systems operations. I format programs for the company's accounting department," she said. We had reached the end of the hall, and here the carpet smelled bad, like it had gotten wet once and never fully dried. "You'll sit at that desk, there," she said, pointing to an empty cubicle.
"That's Mr. Clabby's office," she said, indicating a glassed-in place behind us. "He'll be in soon." I smiled at her, and she smiled back, and she left to sit at her own desk, behind a partition.
I sat down at my desk. It had a new green blotter on it, so someone must have known I was coming. I had nothing to do. To pass time I opened up my portfolio and looked through my sketches, pretending to be casual. I wanted Mr. Clabby to see right away that I had some talent. I spread them out on the desk a little, and I was sitting, very business-like, at my desk when he came in, around 10:30.
"Very well. I'm pleased to meet you," he said. He had a gravelly voice. "I founded Getaway thirty years ago," he said. "My children do most of the day-to-day work, of course."
Mr. Clabby went into his glass office, closing the glass door behind him and opened up the newspaper. I tried to look at him without him noticing; I was wondering if it was good to be working for the top guy like this, the founder, or if he'd always be too busy to pay attention to me. He hadn't left me anything to do now.
I looked out at Seventh Avenue for awhile, watched the racks of clothes fly back and forth across the shady street, until I began to feel guilty for wasting so much time. There was a copy machine on the other side of a thin paperboard wall, and I could hear it churning away, as other people got their work done. After a while I went around the partition and found Pat Barks. "Is there something I should be doing?" I asked her.
"You'll just do whatever Mr. Clabby needs you for. You're his summer assistant," she said. "He likes to have an assistant."
I pretended to look at the pictures of her family for awhile. There seemed to be a lot of sisters, all fat ladies wearing big shoes. I read all the cartoons she'd taped to her desk and looked at her thesaurus, and still Mr. Clabby didn't buzz to say he needed me for anything.
"Shouldn't I be doing more work?" I said, after a while.
"You're getting paid, aren't you?" she said. "Enjoy yourself."
I ate my lunch at my desk. When Mr. Clabby went to lunch, I fished his newspaper out of the wastebasket. I read every single inch of it, starting with the sports scores, and working my way back through all twelve horoscopes to the news. I read about the mayor's new financing plan for the city sewer system. I read about an earthquake in France.
After that I sat with my head in my hands, listening to the rhythm of the copy machine. It started reminding me of a song I'd heard on the radio a lot a few years ago. She's a star fruit surf rider flower girl, the copy machine hummed. Lipstick, motorcycle, baby blue. The song made me think of Diana Taylor. I went through all the lyrics, comparing them to her. She's taken me away, I'm going to go forever. Sugar hips, honey lips, brazen days of pleasure. She is love, love, love; love, love love.
Pat Barks said something that woke me up.
"What?" I said.
"You're singing," she told me.
"I'm sorry," I said, and sat up straight again.
"You have a lovely voice," she said.
I spent the rest of the day thinking about Diana and I working together on a musical act, of her being a star and me designing all her very outrageous clothing. I couldn't remember if Diana had told me she was also a singer or not. I thought through the whole story: how other singers would start copying her style, but they'd never get it right; how they'd do a sketch making fun of that on Saturday Night Live. I'd pretty much planned out our whole career by the time Mr. Clabby came back from lunch, around 3:30.
"Has anybody called?" he asked.
"Nobody," I said, and he went back into his glass office.
"Will tomorrow be busier?" I called after him.
"Things are very steady in this company," he said.
I left at five, and I was trying to cheer myself up by thinking that I'd earned almost fifty dollars that day, even if I had done nothing at all. I didn't know whether or not to take my portfolio home with me when I left. Finally, I did.
It wasn't hard to find her door. Most of the doors on the hallway were just metal painted brown, but Diana's was covered with stuff, taped-up antique photographs and newspaper clippings and rubber toys hanging from pieces of string, and what looked like pieces from a Monopoly game. I examined the door for a little while before I knocked.
"Hi," she said, but she looked kind of confused, like she didn't recognize me.
"I'm Lulu, from upstairs," I said. "You met me last night."
"Oh, yes," she said, and stepped out of the doorway. "You look different in the daytime." I tried not to take that as some nasty comment about me being black. "Come in," she said.
The apartment was wild. There was junk and bric a brac everywhere, a lamp that looked like Elvis, stacks of magazines, posters in rolls, what looked like a very expensive antique desk. Diana had to lead me on a path through the stuff, through the room to reach the light from the windows. "I'm glad you came by," she said. "I'm about to take a walk. Would you like to come with me?"
"Where are we going to walk to?"
"Just walk. It's dusk. This is the most wonderful time of day. When the sun dims a little, the light's so soft and everyone knows it'll be dark soon. It's like things are all right in the world."
"Okay," I said, and I was starting to like her even more.
"Just wait here a minute," she said.
There was a painting on the easel by the window, as if she'd just stopped work on it.
I studied it while she was gone. The colors were pretty enough, but it was clear she'd never taken drawing or perspective classes. She took forever at whatever she was doing, and I started looking around at other things in the apartment. I spent a lot of time looking at a souvenir clock from Florida that didn't work. Then I started leafing through the old magazines, which kept losing pages because they were all cut up. I looked on one to see it's date, and I noticed subscription label made out to Isolde Taylor. I looked at another one, and it was made out to Rosebudd Taylor. Another one said Mona Lisa Taylor.
"Diana?" I called. No one answered.
No response. It wasn't that big an apartment, but I figured all that stuff was blocking the sound waves.
I turned to go out and slammed straight on into a very small man with a very big nose. He was wearing a cotton shirt and had a funny blond haircut, and he was sitting calmly amid all the rubble, reading. For a second, I swear, I thought it was some kind of big doll, and then it blinked. "Yaaa!" I said.
Diana was behind me right away. "That's Gary," she said. "Come on, I'm ready. Let's go. See you later, Gary," she said, and kissed him on the forehead. "Just leave your portfolio here. We'll pick it up later," she told me. I wondered exactly who Gary was.
We didn't wait for the elevator. We ran down the stairs, and we were still running a little when we went out the door and onto Broadway. It was almost seven in the evening but there was still a traffic jam. The sirens were going again, and but the cars were too packed together to let them through. People were winding in between cars, trying to cross the street.
Diana waited on the sidewalk for a second before diving into traffic. I followed her long legs between a minivan and a Toyota, and through a slim tunnel between two trucks. We would have been completely crushed if either one had moved at all.
We passed through the square where the raggedy men sat. They had shopping carts full of their things and more things for sale laid out on their blankets, and I could see where Diana bought some of the stuff I had seen in her apartment. The men were selling stuff they'd dug out of the garbage, figurines and old clothes and half-used cosmetics and, of course, old magazines. Diana surveyed it all for a moment, then took off walking. I had to rush to keep up with her.
"The sun is out tonight. It's a good time for a walk," she said. We crossed a street against the light.
"I had my first day on the job today," I told her. "I'm working for the founder of the company."
Diana didn't reply. She just kept walking, and didn't say anything at all. People we passed kept looking at us, and I liked the fact that they thought I was with her. Or, maybe they were just looking at her. It was hard not to look at her, because she was so tall.
"Lean back," she said suddenly. "Lean back and look up."
I looked up. I saw a lot of tall buildings.
"The buildings make a frame, and it's a whole new way of seeing the sun," she said. "It makes you see it more. It makes you see where it begins and where it ends."
It did. The sun looked purple, like a painting, with backlit purple clouds all around it.
"That's how I know I'm extraordinary," she said. "Because I can see things."
My heart leapt and I suddenly really wanted to touch her; I knew what she meant. I was about to tell her how hard it was to be extraordinary in Rockford when I saw she was looking up again, at a movie marquee.
"Oh, they've already made a movie of that," she said. "It's a shame." She shook her head. "I always thought I should play that part, if they ever made a movie of it."
I looked up at the marquee, and then back down at her.
"An actress," she said. "I'm definitely going to be an actress."
"Do you go to acting school?" I asked. The light changed and we started across the wide street.
I didn't like her confessing to crimes and I didn't like hearing her talk about Gary. I thought, we were out together, and that made her my date, at least for the evening.
We walked into a small, antique-looking neighborhood that looked detailed and perfect, like a museum diorama, which I found out later was Greenwich Village. It was dinner time, and we passed a lot of outdoor cafes where everyone eating was as pretty as silent movie stars. Diana made me stop on a street corner and look towards the Empire State Building, at the firefly flashes coming from the spire. They were tourists taking snapshots from the observation deck, miles and miles away.
For what seemed like hours we walked, and I couldn't get over how good-looking everyone in New York was. In Rockford, I was always the most fashionable person around, but here, almost everyone on the street was better-looking than me. I kept looking around to check out all the competition.
"Can we sit down here?" I asked her, as we passed a particularly glamorous cafe. "I'm hungry."
Diana nodded, and she chose a table out front that was still full of dirty dishes. We watched people pass on the street for awhile. A lot of them looked at us. Maybe you just look better when you're sitting down in a cafe.
"I want to do something that will influence people, something that will change people. Anything," she said. "I want to be up there with all the people who really matter. Up there breathing clouds."
The way she said the part about the clouds, it was really beautiful. "My brother calls me a faggot when I say things like that," I said.
"Well, that doesn't mean you are one. That's a very personal choice," she said.
Just then, a girl walked past in an incredibly wild silver dress. It was a lot like a dress I'd designed for school, only tighter, and there was a wonderful cut to the pockets I wanted to copy. I wished I'd brought a pen along.
"They say you'll have to give up hoping and then it will happen," Diana was saying. "Do you think that's true? I wish I could." She shook her head. "No, I don't. I can't. I don't want to."
A busboy came to clear away the dishes. "Are you hungry?" I asked her.
"I wish I didn't have to eat," she said. "I wish I didn't have to be human."
Another raggedy man was asking everyone in the cafe for money, and Diana gave him the change the customers before us had left for a tip. Then we were quiet for awhile. I watched the sky growing dark. I was starting to see things like she did, now. I could see a shiny river down the street, and I saw the clouds were a periwinkle blue, lit from beneath, as if there were a sustained explosion on the water. I was feeling warm and dreamy, with her beside me.
"I'm afraid, sometimes, of the moment," Diana said suddenly. "The moment when I'll stop believing things are possible. The moment when I'll stop believing that I'm special, that I'm extraordinary. That's when I'll die, I know I will. I know it's coming. I'm afraid it's coming."
"But you are special," I told her. "You are wonderful."
"But I can't just hear it from you. Don't you understand?" She looked right at me. "I have to hear it from everybody. Every single person has to say it."
I didn't know what to say. I just stared at her, until the waitress stuck an enormous menu in my face.
I ordered a pasta special, which was huge and full of sea animals and turned out to be more than I could eat. Diana would only have lime juice.
There were no new assignments waiting when I came into work the next day. I checked the two plants outside the glass office to see if they were made of plastic, and I couldn't tell, so I watered them anyway with a coffee cup full of distilled water. Mr. Clabby came in at 10:45, and he had two newspapers under his arm. By 11am, I'd figured out a way to put my head down on my desk without him seeing. I only had to sit up when Pat Barks walked past my cubicle. She said hello whenever she passed, even if she passed twice within the same clock minute.
I stopped her once and tried to start a conversation. "Done any shopping recently?" I said.
She seemed to take the question very seriously. "For what?" she asked.
"For clothes, whatever," I said. She was wearing matching white shoes, white belt and white eyeglasses.
"No, it's not late enough in the summer," she said. "You have to buy the very last things on the rack if you want to get the best bargains."
"No, they're in a different building," she said. "They're all a little crazy, you know. They're artists." She had a little moustache on her lip.
I sat with my head down for another hour and then I went out for lunch. I went down and got a roast beef sandwich, and ate it on a bus bench on Seventh Avenue, watching the fashion people go by, using up all sixty minutes of my allotted lunch hour. As I went back and the elevator door opened, I saw the Getaway Fashion sign. Get away while you can, I read.
When I came through the reception area after lunch, I picked up an armful of Ws and Women's Wear Dailys and carried them back to my desk. Nobody said anything. I could see Mr. Michael Clabby in his empty glass office, staring out the window through his thick glasses. Through the wall, I heard people arguing by the copy machine.
"Are those the import licenses from last month?" one said. "What about the new ones?"
"Lay off," the other voice said. "You're giving me way too much of this garbage. This is work enough for ten people. I can't do it all."
I took a deep breath and began to read. Paging through, I saw a lot of my ideas used already in other people's clothes. Which was bad, because it meant that what I designed wasn't unique, but also good, because it meant that what I designed was good enough to be in W if it had someone else's name on it. I went through all the magazines, looked at them again and again, until I couldn't remember which ideas were mine and which weren't. Then I put my head on the desk again, and listened to the voices from the copy machine.
"He's bitching because they're not done," said a woman. "We're going to have to decline orders if they're not done."
"Maybe I've got more important things in my life than export licenses." That was the same angry voice from last time.
"It is not that difficult a task. I don't know why you're not up to it," said the woman, and I could hear her heels clicking away. The copy machine was churning and humming on the other side of the thin wall.
"Hey," I said. "Can I help you out? I'm Mr. Clabby's assistant and I've got time on my hands. Let me help take care of your licenses."
He looked at me with a hostile face. "The old man's assistant?" he said.
"I can help you out," I said.
"All right," the guy said, but you could tell he thought I was suspicious. "I'll bring some over."
A few minutes later he brought a big pile of government forms and left them on my desk, along with a sample form showing how they were supposed to be filled out. He left them there without smiling and walked away. I found out by reading the sample form that his name was Carl. By the end of the day, I had most of the forms done, and I felt a little better when I saw the Getaway sign on the way out.
As June progressed, I spent a lot of time in front of my apartment window, watching. The raggedy guys built a whole little town in the square, and nobody stopped them. They built tents out of newspaper and hotdog umbrellas, and set up whole households, with rusty grills to cook on and beds and pillows. One guy had a potted poinsettia, which I don't know how he got in the middle of the summer. Sometimes I made sandwiches to take to work, and if I had extra bread I would bring it down to them, and they'd always say, thanks, brother. It made me feel like I was trying to look too cool, or something, but I did it anyway.
We were seeing each other every day, now. I'd stop by her apartment right after work, which meant that at around 4 o'clock at work, I'd start getting nervous and tongue-tied. Before 4 o'clock, even, I'd be thinking about her. I was starting to find all sorts of signs in the licenses that Diana and I were meant to be together, like if the signatory was someone named Diana or if any address involved was Taylor or Tailor Street or if a license number would contain both our ages, 19 and 27. I'd get uncomfortable in my office chair, I was thinking about her so much.
After dinner I'd go upstairs and get my sketchpad and pencils, and then come down and work silently beside her. I'd do mostly fashion sketches, things I'd seen people wearing on the street that I thought I could use. But Diana was always was always working on something new and amazing. She'd was always starting on a design for dance costumes, or adding something to her unfinished painting, or telling me about completely new ideas she'd had.
"I read in the paper today about a restaurant in China that put opium in its food to keep people coming back," she said once. "That would be a good idea for a screenplay."
"Yes," I said.
"Or an opera," she said.
I looked at her. "Do you think you could write an opera?" I asked.
"Sure, I could," she said. "No problem." She went back to working on her costumes. "You can do anything you want if you only try."
They were some of the happiest moments I ever had. In Rockford, there was never anyone who understood why I drew so much. Diana drew, and she painted, and she wrote plays, and she made up costumes for dances which hadn't even been invented yet. And I knew she liked me, because she started asking for my advice.
"Do you think I should get a job?" she asked me one day, when she was working on the opera.
"Do you want one?" I said, carefully. She'd said before that jobs made you feel less extraordinary, so I was worried about saying the wrong thing.
"I've had them before," she admitted, "it's just that I got fired a lot. Gary's better. Gary can usually keep a job."
Just thinking about Gary made pissed me off. I gave my sketch figure a sullen expression. "The trouble is, I need more freedom," she said, and I wondered if she meant freedom from Gary. "I want to make enough money to buy a video camera. Because I think I want to be a video artist," she said. "Video and film is what I'm really suited for."
After a while, it started to ruin our evenings, because she was always depressed and couldn't work on her non-video projects at all. She just spent a lot of time with Chinese fortune-telling sticks and looking at herself in the mirror. June was going by, I was getting postcards from Europe saying that my friends would be home soon, and I was still no closer to success with Diana.
When I got my first paycheck, I cashed it, and then I went to the electronics shop I passed every day and I bought her a video camera. She was really happy when I brought it home, but she didn't seem all that surprised. She walked around the apartment, taking shots of all her artwork and of Gary reading, and then we put the tape on TV and looked at it.
I called my mother later and told her I wouldn't be able to send money home after all because it cost too much to live in New York.
The next day at work, Mr. Clabby called me into his glass office.
"Do you see this?" He had a pile of xeroxed papers, and he was pointing at a spot on a sheet right in the middle of them.
I looked closely. "It's the address of a department store," I said.
"It's an address in Oklahoma," he said. "Look again."
I looked again, and I looked at the addresses around it. It seemed to be part of a chain of department stores in Oklahoma. I wondered if they were especially good customers; I wondered for a second if he was going to send me there.
"Oh," I said.
"I want you to go through our entire retailer list and check that the names of the states are spelled right," he said. "Be certain."
He had handed me a list which, I swear, must have been about sixty pages long with about ninety addresses on each page. It was the first thing he'd ever given me to do. "Yes, sir," I said.
"You may find this trivial, young man," he said, guessing right, "but this is a matter of customer respect. Customer respect is very important," he said. "It seems since my children have taken over this company nobody cares about the customer any more."
Pat Barks was waiting as I came out with the list. "A woman is on the phone for you," she said. "Your girlfriend?"
My heart started beating very fast, and I ran to the phone. It was Diana. I loved just hearing her voice.
"That sounds great!" I said.
"You don't think it's too ordinary?"
"There's nothing better than flowers." I told her. "Flowers are always extraordinary."
"Do you think it's a good idea?"
"It sounds like a great idea." I'd already been daydreaming about her moving out on Gary, and in with me, once I'd finished my housesitting job. We'd live in a beautiful apartment, and I'd design clothes and she'd arrange flowers, and we'd spend all our nights alone together.
"Okay," she was saying. "On your say-so, I'll take it."
After that, the whole day glowed. I went through the entire address list without getting bored at all. I was so happy. There weren't many mistakes, anyway. Someone had consistently misspelled Illinois and left an "A" out of Oklahoma, but that was mostly all.
I brought it in to Mr. Clabby in his glass office around four p.m.. He looked through it closely, carefully, as I stood there, stood until I was getting tired of standing.
"You," he said slowly. "are an intelligent, industrious young man. You will do well in the world."
"Thanks," I said.
He took off his glasses, and for the first time I saw his eyes. They were a clear, sharp blue.
"Don't ever give up," he said. "Don't ever let them talk you into giving up."
He seemed so old and sad. I left, kind of feeling bad for him, but I was so happy about Diana's new job, I didn't think about it for very long.
"I'm going to be a great florist," she said.
"That's good," I said.
"Please, take me seriously," she said. "I'm going to devote myself to being a florist. I'm going to learn the trade very slowly and thoroughly. That's what my boss says you have to do. I'm going to be good."
"I know," I said.
"My horoscope from the paper today said I'd be working from a position of power," she said, "and now we're doing the bouquets for the mayor's banquet on the Fourth of July."
We had a very good evening that night. We didn't eat takeout food; I cooked a chicken dish, and Diana said it was very tasty, although I had to make her take out her cherry bubblegum to eat it. After dinner, we flipped through the TV channels, ending up on a channel where everybody was nude.
"You know, I met a man once who said I could be a porno star," she said. "Because of my height, you know, a novelty thing."
Later, she told me she'd also wanted to be a doctor at one point, and she felt my pulse. It was very nice, and I almost reached over and kissed her then, and I knew she wanted me to. But then we heard Gary drop something in the other room, and after that we just watched TV for the rest of the night.
Mr. Clabby must have asked and found out about me doing the import and export licenses, since before the July 4th weekend, he offered me a job doing them permanently. I should have said no right away, because I have two more years of college to go, and besides, I'm a designer, not an office worker. But I couldn't stop thinking - what if something did happen between Diana and me? What if we wanted to move into a place of our own? I would need to have a job right away. So I told him I'd let him know.
Things had been going well between us. She was happy at her flower job, and she'd done pretty well except for leaving some orchids out to die while she was writing down some ideas for the opera. But they put her in charge of making the large bouquet for the entryway, the first bouquet the mayor would see when he walked into the banquet, although I'd bet he was going to a dozen banquets that day, but I didn't tell her that. She was asking my advice on everything now, and trying to tell her own fortune less.
I picked July 3 to approach him, because I knew most of the office would already be on vacation and he'd be even less likely to have something to do. He seemed surprised when I took the sketches out of the portfolio, but he looked at them for a long time while I tried to make holiday arrangements with the freight handlers, and after a while he called me into his office. He'd taken maybe five of the sketches out and fanned them across his desk.
"You have a lot of good ideas. These are the most marketable," he said. "On this one," he said, picking up a sketch, "the droopy hem is going to require an extra quarter-yard of fabric for every dress. Make it a straight hem, and you can take a couple of dollars off the production price." He looked up at me, with those sharp blue eyes. "It'll look better, too," he said.
I looked at the sketch again. He was sort of right.
"That's production side," he went on. "You also have to think of the selling side. Take these satin bows on this vest. First of all, they aren't washable, and customers don't like garments they have to dry-clean."
I didn't say anything. I felt bad, but I knew I was learning something.
"Second of all," he went on, "they make the piece too distinctive. You can't sell a rack of ten, because no woman is going to want nine others out there with her distinctive vest. All wrong for mass-market fashion. That stuff's for collections."
"What you might want to do," Mr. Clabby said, and I was starting to think he liked to talk because no one ever listened to him, "is incorporate the bows into the fabric pattern. If, of course, that makes dollar sense."
"I'm sorry," Pat Barks interrupted. "Mr. Lewis, there's a woman on the phone for you. She says its a personal emergency."
I left the sketches on Mr. Clabby's desk and followed Pat Barks to hers, where she'd picked up the call. As soon as I got into her cubicle I could hear crying coming out to the receiver, which was lying on its side.
"Diana?" I said. I thought I recognized her voice in the sobs.
"Don't worry," I said. I was happy that I was the one she called when she was so upset. "It's going to be okay."
"No, this is it. This is the thing, the moment. It's never going to happen. Can't you see? I'm never going to be extraordinary. There's no hope."
I heard street noises in the background. "Look," I said. "Where are you now?"
"At a pay phone. I was fired. I can't use their phone any more. I've been fired."
"Okay," I said, looking at my watch, "it's 4:00. Just go home, okay? I'll meet you there." She was crying again. "Just go home," I told her, and I waited a while to make sure she hung up.
Mr. Clabby let me go early, after spending more time telling things I would have otherwise been eager to hear. On the subway, I thought, well, she called me, and she needs me. I thought about holding her, comforting her. I could almost feel her thin arms around my waist.
When the elevator doors opened I saw her crumpled by her decorated door, her housekeys sticking out of her hand like an extra set of fingers. She was still crying, in a high-pitched, hysterical way. When I heard my mother cry, it was always much more low-pitched, much deeper.
"Diana," I said, putting my hand on her back.
"Oh, God, this is so awful. I feel so bad."
"You'll get another job," I said.
"Don't you know? Can't you see?" She had her forehead smashed up against one of the rubber toys on the door. "I'm never going to be extraordinary," she said. "Don't you see? I'll never be anyone special."
"You're special to me," I said, feeling kind of weird about it.
"You don't understand. It's not the same. God, it's not the same. I'm just, nothing. I'm nothing. I'm so lonely. Nothing's right."
At this point, she actually started shrieking as she cried, and a few neighbors opened their doors to see. Most went away when they saw she was all right, but a few kept on watching.
Diana was quiet for a moment when she saw everyone looking. I remember one of those metal shoes from the Monopoly game was pressed against her cheek. When she reached up to move it, I noticed her palms were dirty, and I took her hand. "Look what you've done," I said.
She'd traced all the lines in her hand, all the success lines, with a black felt tip marker.
"I did it on the subway," she said. "I did it on the subway home. I wanted to see them better." She wiped her eyes with her hands, and then she had black ink tears.
I reached over and touched her hair. She'd stopped sniffling for a moment.
"You're all the same," she said. "All you want is to keep me down. That's all you want, to make me as small as you are. They all do." She lost her balance and grabbed some of the stuff stuck to the door to hold her up, then fell with a crash when it came loose. "They all made the flowers die," she said, starting to cry again. "They always make the flowers die."
The apartment door opened from inside, and she fell in a little bit. It was Gary.
"Are you cracking up again?" he asked, and I'd never heard him speak before. "Come on," he said, in a lame little voice. He took her by the arm and dragged her into the apartment, and then closed the door behind them.
The neighbors went back into their apartments, and left me sitting on the floor in the hall by myself.
I stayed alone in my apartment a lot in the days that followed. I spent a lot of time in bed, not moving at all, just thinking. I wasn't dreading having my friends come back from Europe as much as I had been.
I never saw Diana. I didn't go down to see her and she didn't come up. I also couldn't hear anything from the apartment downstairs, although my apartment was pretty quiet because I wasn't doing anything but thinking.
When I couldn't sleep, sometimes I watched TV, with the volume turned very low. New York cable had twice as many channels as Rockford, including a 24-hour fashion channel and, of course, the channel where people were completely nude. I watched that one a lot. It had guy dancers, too, alternating with the girls, dancing with their hips as if they really wanted some sex.
"Hello, Lulu," she said, and she sounded cheerful again, bird-like. "You have such a cool name," she said.
"Are you okay?" I asked her. It was all I could think of to say.
"Oh, I'm fine," she said. "Everything's going to be fine." It was hard to tell where she was calling from. She was standing in some kind of hollow place and there was an echo behind her. "Look," she said, "I need some money."
"Money?" I said, nearly choking. "I don't have very much."
"I do," she said. "I have some savings bonds my grandma gave me for college, and now I need them. Except my parents won't send them to me." She coughed, and the cough echoed in the hollow place, and I tried to imagine Diana going to college. "My parents won't send them," she said. "I want you go up and get them for me."
"Steal them?" I asked.
"No, no," she said. "Just go up and knock on the door and ask for them. Once you're right there, they won't turn you down. I know they won't." She coughed again, and it sounded kind of fake. "Please," she said.
I was having trouble breathing again. "I have work," I said.
"Go this weekend," she told me.
I didn't know what to say.
"Please?" she said. "I thought you said you thought I was extraordinary."
"You are," I said, and the air rushed back into my lungs. "Where do your parents live?"
They lived in Rhode Island, and she gave me complicated instructions how to get there. She told me she'd be back in her apartment by the time I came home, and I could come down and we could talk. When she hung up I sat by the telephone thinking a few minutes, then I watched some guys dance on the nude channel for a while, and then I went to sleep and dreamed about Diana.
I had to pay for my own ticket to Rhode Island. Once I got on the train I didn't mind it, though. I've always liked trains, ever since I was little and we'd take the train to visit my father in prison. Even then, I liked to look out the window at the stuff going by, particularly the bridges, which were always my favorite.
There were a lot of bridges as we rode through New England, and a lot of small houses and white churches with steeples. Some of it was all broken-down and rusted, like parts of Rockford. I saw a very cool scrapyard that had a huge American flag flying over it.
The town was all old and colonial, and the historical sights were dull, and the walk was much longer than the man with the moustache said it would be. I was starting to get in a really bad mood when I realized I'd passed the number I was looking for. I went back, crossing an old colonial-style graveyard, but on the other side the numbers were too small. I went back in the other direction, and a short guy cutting grass in the graveyard looked at me strangely, but on the far side the numbers were definitely too big. I was getting in an even worse mood when I noticed a little white house, way at the back of the cemetery. I stood there, squinting, trying to see if it had any numbers, when the short guy cutting grass just stopped and stared at me.
He said nothing at all. I smiled and he didn't. I started to feel really stupid for having come at all.
"I'm a friend of Diana's," I went on, sort of helplessly. "She asked me to come up here - she asked me to come up here to see you - to come get something, which was hers, she wanted me to get. She wants me to bring it to her."
"You're her friend?" he asked, still not smiling.
"Yes," I said, and I didn't like him staring at me. I let my eyes wander around the graveyard. "Do you live here?" I asked, meaning the house at the back.
"I live here and work here," he said. "I'm the caretaker of this graveyard."
We just stood there for a second, looking at each other. I was smiling so much my face hurt.
"I guess I know what you're here for," he said, finally. "Come with me."
I followed him through the cemetery, looking for my last name on the tombstones, not that people of my color would have been buried in nice graveyards in those days anyway. He took me into a yellow kitchen, where a petite woman was washing dishes.
"This is Diana's friend," the man told her, very solemnly. "She said she was going to send a friend."
"Hi," I said, still trying to be nice.
The woman looked upset. Mr. Taylor left the room, and Mrs. Taylor went back to washing dishes and wouldn't look at me. From the back, she had the same dark hair Diana had, only longer, so it fell down her back and didn't stand up like a halo. It also occurred me that she and Mr. Taylor and their little white house were incredibly miniature, and I don't know how they could have ended up with Diana, who was so tall. I thought about that until Mr. Taylor came back with an green envelope in his hand.
"She might go to college now," I said. "She has a lot of plans."
He looked at his wife. "We've lost all control of her since she left us for the city," he said. "She took leave all her good senses when she took up with that blond hoodlum freak." He was leaning against the kitchen table, and he put his head in his hands.
"She's still a wonderful person," I said. "She's still wonderful, the way she is."
"We don't like her the way she is," her mother said, looking up. "We like her the way we remember her."
I didn't know what to say then, so I looked in the envelope. There were six $500 bonds there, all made out to Diana Joyce Taylor.
I didn't enjoy the trip home nearly as much. Our train got stuck in the Fairfield, Connecticut station, and I spent a lot of time looking at the plants growing beneath the opposite platform. They're funny, railroad plants. There's no reason for them, and nobody wants them, and probably nobody likes them, but they still grow, green and lively and tall.
The door to her apartment was open, too. Gary was putting out the garbage. When he saw me he just silently stepped aside and let me in. I couldn't help looking at him more carefully now that I knew he was a blond hoodlum freak.
I walked back through the apartment, towards the window. Everything looked just the same, although the never-finished painting was off the easel and propped up against the wall. "Diana?" I said. I thought I could hear her in the bathroom.
I sat down on my usual stack of magazines and waited for her. There were a few Polaroid pictures of Gary on the floor, and from the expression on his face in the shots I guessed Diana had taken them. He looked a lot more confident than I had ever seen him, like a man in control of something. I wondered what he was like when they were alone.
"Hi," Diana said, and I looked up. She was wearing a blue dress I'd never seen before, and her wrists were wrapped in huge white bandages. She looked as pale as dust, as if there was no blood left in her whole body, as if it had all been drained out her wrists.
"God," I said, in some weird low voice that wasn't mine.
She tried to act as if things were normal, or something. "Did you bring my savings bonds?" she asked, as she sat down. "I was in a public hospital and I couldn't stand it, and then I found a private doctor who would treat me but he wanted money first. I had to sign something saying I would give him all my bonds."
I took the green envelope out of my pocket and held it on my lap, but I didn't hand it to her. "What happened?" I said, in that weird voice, and I realized I sounded like my brother.
"I don't know," she said, and she wasn't crying, but she looked very strange. "I don't know what happens, when things don't seem possible. I just crack up. When it looks like things might happen, I feel so good, and when they don't, I feel so bad." Her voice was getting softer and smaller as she spoke, until I could hardly hear her at all. "I don't know why things can't be the way I'd hoped they would be," she said.
"Diana," I said. I had a feeling of being very far away from her. I had forgotten all my speeches.
She picked up the photographs of Gary and started shuffling them like playing cards.
"Diana, you're so cool. You can do things. I'm sure you can do things, if you only really try." I was so confused. I was just saying anything awful that came into my head. "You just have to choose what you want to do and work hard at it. You know, with discipline. To get good in even one thing takes so much time. It's so hard. You know? You're not God. You're only one person."
"You sound just like my parents," she said, dully. "Did my parents tell you that?"
I kept bending and unbending the green envelope, and looking at those bandages on her wrists. She can't have needed that much padding, I think, and I wonder now if she just made them bigger for effect.
"No, it's all dreaming," Diana said. "It's all dreaming." She shook her head. "I'm going to stop putting so much energy into dreaming. From now on, I'm going to put all my energy into hoping."
Gary came in again, and sat down, and by now he was starting to look like the Gary in the pictures. It occurred to me that the whole set-up was very advantageous to him.
"I've just figured out that what I'm really supposed to be is a ballet dancer," Diana said firmly."That's what I'm going to work for now. I'll write my own ballets."
I couldn't think of a response, and for a long time we all sat silently on the stacks of magazines, with that stupid unfinished painting behind them, and they were both looking at me, but not seeing me, and when I finally got up and went downstairs to my apartment they didn't say anything at all. I ate dinner by myself, looking out the window. The settlement of raggedy men was gone, and the square was empty except for a policeman standing there with his arms folded. Later in the evening I got a call from my friends in Europe saying they'd be home soon.
Library of Congress
Copyright TKU-526496 1993