Mary Gershwin stepped out of her limousine like she just slipped out of a nightgown. A classy lady like her, knew how to move. Born of wealth and grace she flaunted her rank of high priestess of Brooklyn to the waiting hoard of cameramen. “Mrs. Gershwin is it true that you are going to star in Gutenberg’s next film and if you are will you be in lead?” She saw the small man asking the question and chose to ignore him. What and who was he to ask such a question? The small man asked again. “Is it true?”
She made a dusting-off gesture to the man and said nothing. For God’s sake she was simply going for dinner. It wasn’t as if she strolled down the red carpet with a low cut gown. She smiled at own loathing of the man, Fuck off. Yes indeed she thought, Fuck off. The driver escorted her to the double doors of the Red Shoe Restaurant, a large structure freshly sandblasted by dirty men and nowadays who knows maybe dirty women.
Mary handed Fredrick a twenty and swept away from him like royalty. Fredrick wore proper clothes and always bathed, a dirty man he was not. She felt a fondness for the man but not much. He came from a Hispanic background which somehow felt dirty, not like the sandblasters, a different kind of dirty. Sexual, it was a sexual dirtiness, Mary felt certain he screwed dirty women from the Bronx. The thought sent an ever so slightly feeling of revulsion. The Bronx, she thought, the sewer of New York.
The tall and handsome concierge knew her and smiled “Madam Gershwin, your table awaits.”
“Is it the right table?” She waited for the wrong answer and was disappointed when he gave the correct answer.
“Yes my lady the absolutely correct table.”
She laughed quietly and patted the concierge on his broad shoulders. “My lady, where on earth did you come up with that dramatic line?”
He said nothing.
Mary was a tall lady, silky white hair, and a Bacall style. Only Mrs. Gershwin owned a more fragile look like a stick at an age to be broken, not Bacall. Bacall, now there was a lady, perhaps the epitome of lady. Casablanca moved me so much that I dreamed Bacall dreams for years after I sneaked into the theatre as a kid back in the late forties.
My name is Marty Robertson and I own the Red Shoe Diner and all the greasy bastards that work here. I don’t really own the bastards. I just pay them and they go home. No small talk just work that’s my mantra not that such a mantra would be recommended by a Buddhist monk. I don’t know any Buddhist monks so I don’t give a shit.
Mary is one of the many crazies stopping by this hole in the wall. I always play the doorman game. It makes her happy and she always spends a buck or two for coffee and a donut. Hell, what’s it hurt. Barry Templeton comes in every morning and insists on inspecting the kitchen for FBI agents. I make a buck, what the hell?
Mary always sits in the third booth from the front doors next to the window. Her eyes glazed by a regimen of psychotropic medications drift off into another world, another life perhaps. Who am I to trespass into her thoughts?
Mary stared out the window. Her thoughts drifted to the days when her father would come home hot and sweaty from the steel mills and kiss her on the forehead. Morey Gershwin was a kind man, a good and decent man who took his wife, Lacy and their lanky daughter to the movies every Sunday afternoon. She remembered his father calling them the talkies. Her mom would tell him, “Morey they’re just movies. People don’t call them talkies anymore.”
“Talkies, movies, what’s the difference,” He would snap indignantly. “Ya know people never used to talk. The big boys that made the movies didn’t know how to make voices, now they do so what the hell?”
“Morey don’t say such words in front of our precious.”
Mary continued to stare as the clouds began to darken in the sky. Oh how she wished she could be a kid again. Thunder rumbled outside of the diner and splotches of rain began tapping at the window. Her thoughts went back to Teddy Barlow her first love, her only love she guessed. She let him tap her virginity, something she didn’t take lightly. She trusted him but he didn’t trust her enough to marry her so off he went to the Army never to be seen again. After that she allowed many men to take her, but he was the first and the first is always the most important.
Soon the rain came down in slices like ocean waves falling out of the sky. Mary didn’t notice the ragged and dirty customer who came out of the storm with a dollar in his hand. “What can I get for a buck?” He asked.
“Coffee and a donut,” I says to him. I’ve never noticed the guy before today. He wears an old Yankee baseball cap and a full length black wool coat. The coat is as ragged looking as the man. “Haven’t noticed you around before, new in the neighborhood?” I noticed a pungent odor emanating from him. I know the smell…sweat and weeks of it. His beard and hair grew into each other like some kind of werewolf with body odor.
“I’m the new count,” He said.
“New count? Didn’t know we had an old one.”
He made an indignant huffing sound like maybe my instincts were correct. Maybe he is a werewolf. “I am Count Jesus of Cuba.”
“So should I call you Count or Jesus?”
“Mike would be good.” I wanted to laugh at the incongruent faux pas but didn’t know this guy well enough. He could be carrying as far as I know.
“Okay Mike, you want a coffee and a donut?”
“You got jelly-filled?”
“Just powder, sorry.”
“Sounds okay.” Mike scans the diner and I notice he hones in on Mary. “Who’s the babe?”
Again I couldn’t allow myself to laugh. This haggard and dirty visitor thinks Mary Gershwin’s a babe. What in hell is going on? So far I have a diner full of escapees from a mental institute and I am their gatekeeper, their donut and coffee server. Jesus, how could this get any worse? Sheila is due in at anytime now. She will take care of the customers if indeed that’s what they are. She’s been my night waitress for five years and practically runs the place without me. Hell, maybe she runs the place better than me. I stare up at the clock. Sheila should be…
“Marty, I see we have a house full.” Sheila shakes her umbrella all over counter. “I’ll clean that up later.” I didn’t let on like it but I was damn glad to see her. She glanced at my face. “You look like shit Marty, you see a ghost or somethin’?”
“Yeah, something, not sure what though.” I motioned to her to go back to the kitchen with me. She followed obediently. “Listen Sheila, something is going on here. “We know Mary right?”
“Sure we do.”
“Well the bum over there called himself Count Jesus of Cuba and there’re a couple of girls in the corner booth with their tongues stuck together like a couple of toilet plungers. It’s pretty damn strange don’t you think?”
Sheila roared with laughter. I placed my finger over my mouth to hush her, but she laughed even louder. “Marty,” She says, “Marty the nut factory’s only five blocks away. You should be used to them by now.”
“This is different.”
I gestured for her to scan the diner. There was Mary, Jesus, the tongue girls, and Frank Ledbetter a regular. “That’s how so.” Just then I heard the door open. I swear I thought my eyes were going to pop out of their fucking sockets. In comes a white haired old man with nothing but a robe on, hair drenched and carrying a purse or maybe it was belly pack.
“I suppose this is another Jesus, Marty?” Sheila scurried out of the kitchen area to wait on the new freak.
I hear her talking to him. “Have a seat sir I’ll fetch ya a glass of water. Ya wanna menu?”
The man in the robe is sopping wet. His hair dark and curly is dripping water onto his ears slowly making its way to the counter. He spins on the swivel stool like a kid waiting for a chocolate milkshake. “No, just coffee for me thanks. He spins some more. “Is there someone named Mary in here?”
Mary turns quickly at the man’s voice. “I’m Mary,” She says to the guy in a robe. “Are you looking for me?”
“Too old.” The robed man scanned the tongue lashers. “Hey is one of you named Mary?” They paid no attention to him. By now they were rubbing each other’s breasts and sweat was glistening on their foreheads.
Sheila brought the man a cup of coffee. “That’s Butch and Hoffa,” Jerking her head in the direction of the two wonton women in the booth.
“How’s a woman gotta name like Hoffa?”
“Swears she’s Jimmy Hoffa’s daughter.” Sheila sits the coffee in front of him. “How’s come you have a robe on?”
“She your girlfriend?”
“No, she’s a fucking hooker. She took me for fifty bucks and never gave me a blow job. Her pimp pulled a gun out and ordered her into a fancy car. He took my shoes.”
“So you wear a robe all the time?”
“Only when I’m fucking, I live down the alley and I was doin’ her against a building next to my pad.”
“Pad?” Mary spoke up.
“Yeah, you know the place I eat and sleep.”
“So you were doin’ her outside of your pad. That’s kinda strange.” Sheila jumped in.
“Yeah I know but she was all creeped out about goin’ into my pad.”
Mary didn’t want to hear any more bullshit from the creep in the robe and she couldn’t stomach the two chicks humping each other. By now they were straddling each other with hands where they shouldn’t be.
She once again escaped into her blank world, blank because the medicine made her blank. She saw only a darkening world outside the window and rain that now came down in the form of black beetles swarming, waiting for her to go home. Where is home? The Chapel of Light Mission Home always kept a room nice and warm for her. They’ve been doing so for forty years now ever since the passing of Bogie.
The rattling window startled her. The wind began whipping the beetles against the window so violently Mary thought the glass would crack.
“Getting pretty nasty out there isn’t it Mary?” Sheila saw the elderly lady jump when the window rattled. “October is always windy around here.” No one listened to her. She felt like going over and grabbing the two camels in the corner booth mating like dog on dog. Marty should do it. He let people take advantage of the joint. Hell, it wasn’t a whorehouse, but she needed to fill the salt and pepper shakers so the humpers would have to wait.
Mary went back to her blankness only it wasn’t really blankness. The thoughts of her childhood were not blank. They were real. Some nights her father Morey would come home drunk and beat the livin’ shit out of her mother. One time he beat her until she was bloody and unconscious. After that he came quietly into her room. Mary could smell the beer on his breath. She tried to fight him off but he was too strong even in his drunkenness.
Morey crawled on top of her nearly suffocating her. He unzipped his pants and ripped her panties off. She tried to scream but she could barely breathe. That’s when he entered her and started humping like the girls in the corner booth. He was like a jack rabbit and finished quickly with a slight whimper exhaled with a touch of beer breath. It was over as fast as it had begun. Her father left stuff inside of her. She felt it. She could feel it now oozing out of the place fathers’ should not be.
Morey Gershwin died ten years after the event. Lacy Gershwin died long before Mary’s father making Mary the housekeeper and chief. They were wicked years, so wicked and so very sick. It was soon after her father’s death that Mary took a much needed vacation in the world of psychosis. They labeled her bipolar as in severe mood changes ranging between being manic and super depressed. Mary was most generally super depressed unless she was dining at the Red Shoe Lounge with her best gown on.
Noah Stops By
“Everybody out of here!” The man shouts. He was dressed in a leather coat and wearing a cowboy hat. “We’re getting forty days and forty nights of rain.”
I ran over to him and suggested that he quiet down. I smelled booze immediately. “Can I get you something to eat cowboy?”
“Don’t call me cowboy, name’s James Hillary the Second.”
“Is there a first?” I ask.
“You some kind of smartass?”
The cowboy glared and started shouting again. “We must build an ark! We must build an ark!”
Sheila stood silent with her jaw hanging slack at the sight of this strange experience. “Jesus, Joseph, and Mary, what in God’s name is happening around here Marty?”
“I have to be in a dream.” It had to be a dream because something this strange could not or does not happen in the real world. “It’s surreal,” I said and meant every word of it.
“Let’s close up shop and get everyone out of here.” Sheila held a look of horror. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
I scuffed into the middle of the diner and grabbed a spoon and hammered it on the counter. “We’re closing up everyone. You’ve got to get home or wherever you’re going after being here.” I was met with no response. No one was leaving.
The cowboy strolled up to me like he was going to throw a saddle on me. “It’s your dream Marty. Just wake up and we’ll see you again tomorrow night.
The alarm clock was chirping and I immediately sat up. Sheila was still asleep. I rolled off the bed and padded over to the window. The rain was falling sideways and the dark skies made it seem like night, and the wind, the terrible wind.