The Haunting of Miss Tina

p37875_p_v7_aa

According to Wikipedia: This is a poster for The Lost Moment. The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist. It is used only to provide a review of the film. There were no decent trailers of the movie. So all I can provide is the poster and this German trailer. The film is in English. It can be found on Amazon.com.

I had seen the film a long time ago. I could not remember its name or any of the actors or even the story. Scenes from the film kept appearing in my dreams. For quite some time I searched for it on IMDB, Amazon, Turner Classic Movies and the New York Times website. I haunted flea markets and used book stores and used movie sellers, thinking it was in one of their bins. I spent hours and hours at this obsession and still no results. Until a week ago…

I was out driving in my car with no particular destination. It was one of those kinds of Sunday drives we make to get the worries out of our systems. I found myself in an area I didn’t remember visiting before. I came upon this old used bookstore in an out-of-way place on the side of a dirt road. Not the friendliest sort of place, but still I was desperate to find the film. I had to see this movie. Otherwise…well, let’s just say, otherwise.

I pulled into the parking lot beside the lone car. I crossed my fingers hoping the store in the old dilapidated building was open. I went to the door and turned the knob. Yes, it did appear the store was open it. As I entered the store, a bell above the door rang.

Across the floor of the store, there were dozens of wooden bins, webs falling from beneath each. Dust was everywhere. The paint peeling from the walls.  The ceiling in places crumbling. The floor squeaked as I crossed it. The store seemed as haunted as my dreams.

Behind the counter, there was an elderly pale man, his hair gone white and his eyes a kind of gray that might be expected from one who was a ghost. He nodded to me. I nodded to him. Then he went back to what he had been doing before I came into the store.

Every bone in my body said leave. This was no place I wanted to be. Yet something had led me to this place. So I was determined to try to find the film here.

I began my search, hungry for the treasure. After hours of searching bin after bin, no luck. Outside the light was fading and the night was closing in. Finally I went to the counter to thank the old man for his time. He came from the office behind the counter. With tears in my eyes, I explained my dilemma. He shook his head. He seemed just as disappointed. I turned to go. Then I saw it. Well, I wasn’t sure that it was it. But I saw a DVD case in one of the displays. On its cover was a drawing of the ancient hand of a woman and her finger wore a large ring. “The Lost Moment” the case said.

I flipped the case over and there were three black-and-white photos. The first one had a man and a priest standing over a woman. Yes, that was my dream. This was the movie that had haunted my dreams for years.

7:58

For Jack, 7:58 on a Tuesday evening is not 7:58 on a Monday or a Wednesday evening. At 7:58 on a Tuesday evening, Barbara walks out on her husband, Jack, leaving Jack and Barbara behind forever.

“Why are you doing this?” Jack yells out at the cab as it pulls out into the street.

She sticks her head out of the taxi window and yells back, “Because I can.”

Jack goes to the kitchen cupboard and pulls out a bottle of whiskey, fills a large glass, takes it into the living room and turns on Jeaopardy. By the time he finishes his glass, it’s Final Jeopardy. “Oh, I know the answer to that one,” he screams at the tv.

At 8:58, he pulls himself out of the chair and into the kitchen and makes a sandwich the way he liks it and the way Barbara never made it, ham and cheese whiz and mustard. “That’ll kill you,” she always said.

Kill him or no, he’s partial to it. Since he had no vote in the decision for the marriage hasta la vista, he decides the occasion requires a second cheese whiz sandwich and the rest of the bottle. Sitting in his chair, he flips through the channels until he comes to Divorce American Style. On the screen, Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds are as American as any American s can be.

It strikes Jack funny that here is Princess Leia’s mom with Mary Tyler Moore’s husband. Jack slurs out, “If they can’t make a marriage work, who can?”

He picks up his guitar and remembers the line from a song, “I got the blues, and it’s one blues too many.” He’s not singing the words. He is crying them.

At 7:58 Wednesday morning, Jack wakes up, stretched out on the carpet, one side of his head suffering a headache, the other one hell of a hangover. He turns off the remote and does what he always does at 7:58 on Wednesday morning. He runs the shower, the cold water washing him clean of the previous night. By 8:58, he’s ready for the start of a new day, headache and hangover and all.

Wednesday evening at 7:58 is not 7:58 Tuesday evening. So Jack sits in his chair with a photo album of memories. Jack and Barbara, high school sweethearts; Jack and Barbara at the prom; Jack and Barbara, on summer vacation at camp in the Pocconos; Jack and Barbara, at the altar, saying their I-doeses; Jack and Barbara in Paris on their honeymoon; Jack and Barbara with little Annie and her cute baby smile; Jack and Barbara with five-year-old Annie off to kindergarten; Jack and Barbara and Annie next to Annie’s first bikes; Jack and Barbara and Annie at the Yellowstone geyser; Annie in her prom dress, standing next to her handsome date; Jack and Barbara and Annie at her high school graduation; Jack and Barbara Jack saying goodbye to Annie as she went off to college; Annie graduating summa cum laude; Jack and Barbara at Annie’s wedding; Jack and Barbara saying goodbye to Annie and Tom moving to Europe.

“I got the blues; and it’s one blues too many,” he sings, accompanying himself on the guitar, realizing this song is nobody’s songs but his own.

On Saturday evening at 7:58 a month or so later, he grabs his guitar, jumps in his silver Nissan and drives down to the neighborhood pub. He’s there just in time to sign up for the 9:58 open-mic slot. At the mic, he twangs, “I got the blues, and it’s one blues too many.”

After his set, a man in a suit and tie takes Jack aside. “How would you like to go into show business?”

Next thing it’s 7:58 on a Tuesday evening in a recording studio. The producer says, “This’ll be the last take.” Jack sings into to the mic, “I got the blues, and it’s one blues too many.”

A month later on a Tuesday evening at 7:58, his manager, the guy in the suit and tie at the pub, calls him, “You’ve got a number ten with a bullet.”

“Is that good?” Jack asks.

“It’ll be numero uno before you know it.”

Six months later on a Tuesday evening at 7:58 at a large venue, Jack starts, “I’ve got the blues, and it’s one blues too many.” He looks down from the stage. In a front row seat, there’s Barbara cheering him on.

That Tuesday evening at 9:58, Jack walks off the stage. His roadie says, “There’s a woman wants to see you. Says she’s your wife.”

For a moment or two until 10:00, Jack feels the anger running through him, then he lets go of it. He’s in too good of a mood. “Show her into my dressing room. I only have a few before it’s time for the second show.”

In the dressing room, Barbara asks, “So, how’s the good life.”

“You’re the last person I expected to see. I know you ain’t here to beg for anything. So, why did you come?”

“To tell you how proud I am of you.”

“Proud?”

“Yes, you’ve finally lived up to the potential I always thought you had. All you had to do  was get up off your rump, chunk those cheese whiz sandwiches, and apply yourself.”

“You must not have had much faith in me. You left me. Forever.”

“You had dug yourself into a hole and needed to dig out. So I threw you a shovel. You forgive me?”

He leans over and kisses his wife. “I guess I can. Yes, I do.”

Barbara and Jack  embrace like they have never embraced before.

There’s a knock on the door. “Five minutes,” the roadie says.

At 10:02, Jack walks on stage and starts the pick a-going on the guitar, singing, “I got the blues, and the blues came down my chimney. I got the blues, and it’s one blues too many. I got the blues and my blues just got friendly. I got the blues, I’ve got cheese whiz aplenty. Just pass the mustard please.”

The Blue Coat

It took her exactly three hours to get through to the FBI. She knew the length of time because she had a prepaid cell phone that ticked off the minutes.

“FBI,” the agent at the other end of the line said. “Carpenter here. How may I help you?”

“I know where Seymour is.”

“Everybody knows where Seymour is.” There was frustration and lack of sleep in the agent’s voice.

“Look,” she said, “if you want Seymour, you’ll listen.”

She sounded serious, not like one of those crank calls the Agency had received in the past forty-eight hours. What would it hurt to listen? Carpenter asked himself. So he and his partner drove the few miles it took to get to her apartment.

“I only saw him three times,” she told Agent Carpenter and his partner, Agent Glass, sitting on the sofa across from her “He bought me a blue coat. Really nice. Would you like to see it?”

“Yes, please,” Agent Carpenter said. His partner didn’t say anything after he introduced himself. She couldn’t remember his name.

She modeled the coat for the two agents. It fit her snugly.

“Nice coat,” Carpenter said.

Glass studied her. Made her feel uncomfortable, like she had done something wrong.

“Why did you accept the coat?” Carpenter asked.

“He said I needed a new coat.”

“Did you?” Carpenter asked.

“Well, yes. My old one had holes in it. I never can afford one on my waitress’ salary. Tips ain’t that good either. He thought it brought out my figure. What do you think?”

The two agents nodded yes, it did.

She slipped out of the coat and laid it carefully across the back of an empty chair, then she sat back down.

“So what happened to Seymour?” Carpenter asked.

“We had our fling, then he left. Said he was going west. I tried to get him to take me but he wouldn’t.”

“So you called us.” Carpenter said in that relaxed way of his. Glass leaned forward.

“Yes,” she said.

“Know what I think?” Glass finally broke his silence. “I think you killed him. You called us so we’d catch you. That’s what I think.”

Her jaw dropped. “Why would I think that?”

“To assuage your guilt,” Glass accused. He’d wanted to use the word “assuage” in a conversation. It was the word of the day on his calendar. “Only question is. Where did you put the body?”

Carpenter said, “You want to show us where you put the body?”

“It’s in the basement. How did you know?”

Glass again, “You were putting in way too much effort. And you treated that blue coat way too nice. Like you were still trying to impress him.”

Finally Muriel would get the adventure she had longed for all her twenty-eight years. It might not be the one she had hoped for. But prison was better than nothing.

Patsy Finds Love

Patsy was thirty-five when she fell in love with a woman. it was the first right thing she felt she had done in her life.

Pregnant, she married her high school sweetheart, Jack Pendledon, as soon as she turned eighteen. She lost the baby a month after the wedding. After several years of marriage, the couple settled into a comfortable existence. They took a yearly romantic cruise, but the passion never returned.

When she was thirty, Jack died of a massive heart attack. His insurance took care of his funeral and paid off the mortgage. She sold the house and decided she was going to college. She was going to be a teacher.

In her sophomore year, she signed up for a Beginning Drama class out of curiosity. She walked into the class. There were no desks, only chairs in a circle. The professor didn’t stand behind a lectern as in other classes. She wasn’t even sure who the instructor of the class of fifteen was.

Unlike students in other classes, these students were dressed not casually, but wild-like. One woman was in goth, wearing dark fingernails and black makeup. She wore a transparent black dress that revealed a black bra and panties. One of the eight guys had pink hair and earrings. Some were tattooed up the wazoo. One woman wore a mohawk. Another was dressed as if she were Mary Poppins’ evil twin sister. Patsy felt like she was crashing a Halloween costume party. She went to leave.

“Looks like we are losing our fifteenth passenger aboard our Titanic.”

Patsy turned and said, “What?”

A small man with a goatee and bowtie said, “Looks like you want off our sinking ship.”

The others laughed.

Out of stubbornness, Patsy took the only chair left. It was between pink hair and goth makeup. She wasn’t sure what she had gotten herself into but she was not going to run away. She came from stronger stock than that. But for a churchgoing, cookie baking, suburban housewife, this was a scary place.

She looked around her. The classroom had open windows. A fall breeze squeezed through. She dropped her books next to her chair and settled back, her purse clutched onto her lap. She listened to the bowtie and goatee.

“Now that we’ve gotten that settled, perhaps we can get on with the agenda. My name is Drew. Not Mr. Such-and-such. Just Drew. Most of you are freshmen. We do have a sophomore in here.” He pointed at Patsy. “She’s the one who can’t seem to make up her mind as to what she wants to be when she grows up. The rest of you pretty well know that something in drama is in your future. Either theater, tv, movies or you just want to be the clown in the circus.”

Drew paused and waited for his words to sink in. There were a few coughs. Patsy realized that she wasn’t the only one who was nervous.

“So, students, close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. Visualize yourself in ten years. Where you are, who you are with, what you are doing.”

Patsy was seeing herself in front of a classroom of high school students. She couldn’t figure out what she was teaching but she was teaching.

Drew let the vision sink in. He let the students enjoy their little adventure. Then, “Now imagine a stick of dynamite blowing up that scene. Ka Pow!”

Several opened their eyes. They were thinking, “Why the hell did you do that?”

Drew clapped his hands. “Wake up people.” He was standing in the middle of the circle. “Get the hell out of my space. Don’t come back until you are ready to have your dreams fall apart.”

The students got up and walked despondently out into the hallway. One held back. It was Patsy.

Drew looked hard at this woman in her early thirties. “What are you doing? Get out of here.”

“No,” she said.

“NO?”

“No,” she said in a sinking timid voice. She felt like crying but she had done that way too much in her life. She did not leave. She shrank in her chair.

Drew walked out of the room, frustrated and wondering who this freak was.

Patsy stared out the open window. The oak trees canopied the campus park-like. The autumn leaves were still green but would be coloring soon. The breeze felt good against her face. She swiped the tears from her eyes. She didn’t care what was going to happen. She was not going anywhere. She belonged where she was. She didn’t imagine or daydream herself anywhere else. She just sat.

Thirty minutes later, Drew Baker slipped back into his classroom. He watched Patsy with a curiosity he usually didn’t have for any of his students. For the ten years since he had left Broadway and come to this classroom, he had never come across a student like this one. Tears began to flow from his eyes. He had finally found a real, live student who would empty themselves of all their previous lives to become a totally new person.

“Patsy,” he whispered from across the room.

Patsy’s eyes turned toward her teacher. “Yes?” she said.

“Thank you,” he said. These were the only words he could get out. Then he followed those words with the most welcoming of words. “I’ll see you in the small theater Wednesday morning at ten. You think you can be there?”

She nodded yes.

Drew Baker left the room. Patsy gathered up her things and walked outside into the hallway. It was empty.

Nine other students joined Patsy in the small theater Wednesday morning. The ten students took seats on the chairs in the circle down front. From the rear of the theater Drew Baker yelled at his students, “Did anyone tell you that you could sit?”

The students stood up as the teacher ran down the aisle, yelling, “Did anyone tell you to sit? Huh, huh, huh.” He went past the group and climbed up onto the stage and looked down on them. “Has anyone here earned the right to sit?”

A tall eighteen-year-old male student said to the others, “I’m out of here. This guy is nuts.” He started walking toward the exit.

Drew said, “That’s right. Get out of my class. Go back to your momma and bitch.” The exit door slammed close. “The rest of you. Up here.”

The students held back.

“C’mon. Hurry. Hurry. Hurry.”

The nine climbed the stairs at the side to the stage and stood before him.

Drew went up to each of his students and sized the student up for several minutes. He said, “You’ll do.” And moved on to the next student. When he was done, he went back to the front of the group and faced them.

The teacher continued, “I want you to spend the next hour exploring inside this theater. Don’t partner up. Understand?”

The students timidly said, “Yes.”

“You cannot leave the theater. Under any circumstance. You understand?”

They nodded their agreement.

The teacher left the group. One went toward the back of the auditorium. Another started walking up and down the stage. Still another headed to the actor’s dressing room. Patsy went backstage and found that there was a basement. In the basement, she found a costume room and another room with props and scenery.

About forty-five minutes later, the fire alarm went off. The students gathered on the stage, trying to figure out where the fire was coming from. Paul, a student with tattoos, jumped down from the stage and headed toward the exit.

Fae, the goth woman, called after him, “Where you going? You can’t leave.”

“I am not going to stay here and get roasted.” Paul slammed the exit door behind him.

The others looked at each other and wondered what to do. The fire alarm stopped. From backstage, Drew Baker walked out on stage.

“Where’s Buttface?” he asked.

“He left. The fire alarm,” Trey, the pink hair and earrings, said.

“I see,” the teacher said. “He just decided he didn’t want to take my class. Right?”

“But—“ Fae said.

Paul opened the front door and ran down the aisle and up on the stage. Out of breath, he was smiling.

Drew Baker couldn’t believe the arrogance. But he kept himself in check and smiled. “Mr. Paul Gruber, what do you think you are doing?”

“Rejoining the class.”

The other students moved away from Paul like he had leprosy.

Drew Baker walked up to the student. The teacher must have been two inches shorter than Paul. The student shrank with Baker staring at him eyeball to eyeball. “Mr. Paul Gruber, what do you think you are doing?” the teacher repeated his question.

“Rejoining the class.”

“Mr. Paul Gruber, what do you think you are doing?” Baker repeated his question.

Suddenly Paul got it. He had disobeyed the instructions not to leave under any circumstance. Now he had to face the consequences. Paul turned around and left the stage and down the aisle toward the exit. Patsy had never seen anyone so dejected in his life.

Drew Baker turned to the other students. “Tomorrow night at 7 p.m. Here. Now go.”

The eight students still in the class walked slowly out of the theater, not sure what had happened, but glad they had survived. There was nothing they would let stop them from attending the next drama class. On their way to their other classes or events, each imagined themselves as a part of something special. Drew Baker could have told any of the group to jump off a cliff and they would have done it.

That evening Patsy was studying in her dorm room alone. There was a knock on the door. She opened it. There stood Drew Baker. “Drew?” she said, surprised to see him.

“May I come in?”

“Of course.” Patsy opened the door further. She invited him to sit at her desk.

He took the chair and turned it around and straddled its back. “Sit,” he said, pointing to the bed.

Patsy did what she was told. She looked confused.

“Do you have something you want to ask me?” he asked Patsy.

“Yes, sir,” she answered.

“Don’t call me Sir. My name is Drew.”

“Yes, Drew.”

“Go ahead.”

“What’s going on?”

“Good. I like that. You don’t mess around. You get right to the point. Don’t like to waste time, do you?”

“No.”

“You don’t like my methods, do you?”

“No, Drew. I don’t.”

“Good. That’s good. You are willing to face your fears. What do you think I am doing?”

“I really don’t know. I just want to know. Am I wasting my time?”

“Do you think you are wasting your time?”

Patsy thought for a couple of minutes. The past two classes of Beginning Drama had thrown her off-balance. But off-balance was okay. Then her teacher showed up at her dorm room wondering what she thought. Finally, she answered, “No, I don’t.”

“Good. Very good. Now I have a favor to ask of you.”

Uh-oh, here it comes. Patsy had been through this with professors before. Two had wanted to sleep with her. She had refused. For some reason, she didn’t feel that from this teacher. “Yes, you can ask.”

“I want you to show up to my class at 7:15 pm tomorrow night. Not 7:00. Can you do that?”

Patsy hesitantly nodded yes.

“There will be no consequences. I will just go on with my lesson. Totally ignoring your lateness.”

Drew Baker left.

Patsy didn’t know what to make of his visit.

At 7:15 pm the next night, Patsy walked into the theater. Drew Baker and the students were down front in the circle of chairs. She hesitantly walked down the aisle, feeling the other students’ eyes on her. There wasn’t an empty chair for her. Drew Baker turned to Trey and said, “Will you get another chair and let Miss Pendledon have yours please?”

Trey reluctantly got up and went backstage for a chair. Drew Baker beckoned Patsy to take his place. Trey returned with a chair and joined the circle.

“Thank you, Trey,” Drew Baker said and smiled. “Now I want each of you to give me your impressions of the theater yesterday.”

Drew Baker focused upon each student and listened. No student brought up the fire alarm. After the students had finished, he asked them, “How many of you students think I’ve been sleeping with Miss Pendledon?”

The students were stunned at the question. Patsy most of all. They were thinking it but they were too scared to say it out loud.

“Let me see your hand if you think I’ve been sleeping with Miss Pendledon.”

Slowly all the students, but Patsy, raised their hands.

“What makes you think that?” Drew asked.

Fae said, “You didn’t kick her out when she wasn’t on time.”

“Is that your only evidence?”

Trey said, “I saw Patsy leave after you went back into the classroom the other day.”

“Couldn’t I have requested an academic meeting with Miss Pendledon?”

“Yes, Drew,” Fae said.

Drew then spoke, “Ladies and gentlemen, I assure you that I am not sleeping with Miss Pendledon.”  Then he dismissed the class.

The students slowly left the theater, shaking their heads, wondering what the hell was going on.

The next morning Patsy was five minutes early. The rest of the class was already in the theater, none taking any chances on getting kicked out of class. They weren’t sitting. Mostly they were standing and waiting and not saying a thing. It looked like no one had slept the previous night. Patsy nodded good morning. The others nodded good morning back.

Drew Baker came out from back stage. “Good morning. Please have a seat.”

The students made a semi-circle to face their teacher on stage.

“Welcome to the world of the theater. I suppose all of you have been wondering what the hell is going on. Who is this crazy guy?”

They nodded their heads. There were two or three yeses from the group. Mostly they waited and listened. Drew Baker had their attention.

“Here’s the deal. I have spent the last few sessions weeding out those who think the theater is a game. That it’s a job. That they can damn well show up if they want. If you are not willing to show up and do a show with a 103 degree temperature, you don’t belong here.”

Drew Baker unknotted his bowtie and pulled it off. “I hate these damn things.” Then he jumped off the stage and pulled up a chair. “Circle please.”

They all joined him in the circle of chairs. He scanned each of their faces. Then he said, “I didn’t choose you. You didn’t choose me. You are here because the theater chose you. Some of you may do very well. Have fame and fortune. I can’t tell you which. All I can tell you is that your life will never be the same. This is your world now. Love it and it will love you back. Not with rewards you can see or touch or feel or taste or smell.”

Drew Baker touched his heart. “But here. It isn’t the most talented that succeeds. It doesn’t matter a bit whether you have talent or not. You now belong to a family that goes all the way back to the Greeks and well before that. Since man first lived in caves, there have been theater people. So welcome. You are a special breed. Never forget that. The others that dropped out or that I kicked out don’t belong.

“Now let’s begin. I want each of you to take a turn and go to the stage and face the audience and just look. Pretend the seats are full. Just look for five minutes. Then come back down to your seat. The next person will take your place.”

When the students completed the exercise, Drew Baker said, “Our next class is Monday here at 7 p.m. Prepare to work all night long. One final thing. Please do not share the process you went through the past few days. If I find out that you did, you will be out. And don’t think I won’t find out about it, I will. I always do. Now go.”

On the way out, Trey and Fae pulled Patsy aside. “Patsy?” Trey said. “Fae and I were wondering if you want to share a house with us.”

Patsy nodded yes.

One of the other students, a student dressed like James Dean, moseyed up to the three of them. “Can you take a fourth?”

The three new roommates looked at the student. He looked young, real young.

“I’m 18. Okay? Okay. You can call me J D. That’s who I am.”

The three breathed easy. Fae said, “Yes. We can have four. Let’s go find a house.”

J D piped in. “I have a house.”

“Let’s go look at it,” Trey shouted. The four went through the front door and out into the afternoon air. They locked arms and began to dance through the parking lot, singing.

Drew Baker watched from his second story office above the theater and smiled. “Yep, this is going to be a good group. Maybe the best he had ever had.”

The students were an hour early for class Monday night. They were anxious to get started on their new life.

“Have all of you seen Romeo and Juliet?” Drew said from the stage.

They nodded yes.

“Okay. Everybody scatter out in the audience and take a seat. Settle in and imagine you are watching Romeo and Juliet on stage. Do not sit next to another student.”

Five minutes later, Drew called them back to their chairs. “Describe to me what you saw.”

He went around the circle, each student detailing what they had seen.

Then Drew said, “Theater is an art of illusion. Nothing that happens on stage is really happening. It is a re-creation. Creating this illusion is a work of imagination. You have just used your imagination to re-create Romeo and Juliet. I have four films about magicians on reserve in the library for you to see before the next class. See if you can figure out how they do their illusions. Now, let’s get to work.”

All semester of the Beginning Drama class was refreshing to Patsy. She had never experienced anything like it. By the end of the semester she knew what she would do for the rest of her life.

Thirty-five years later, lying in the hospital bed dying from cancer, she vividly re imagined each class and how alive she felt. Sewing Fae’s costume was the last thing she remembered as she fell asleep. She did not wake up. Fae leaned over and kissed her lover goodbye, then she left the hospital room, crying.

Rubicon

It was late, two a.m. when Hank finished a long session with a canvas. The painting had gone well. For months, his creativity had been missing in action, and then, the morning before, it was back, a high tide rushing over the wall of his resistance and drowning it. He stepped out into the Greenwich Village night shimmering with the lights of Manhattan in the distance. Tired, exhausted, yes, but also intoxicated with the exhilaration of the work. It was pointless for him to try for bed. It would be hours before he could sleep.

The excitement from the session was in his footsteps. He didn’t exactly stroll but walked briskly over one cobblestone street after another until he reached Albert’s, a cozy little bar only a few blocks from his studio. It had become a favorite haunt of his since he moved into the Village.

He went down the stairs and through the cellar door and into the tavern. A few regulars still hung around, some listening to the piano, some lightly filling the room with their conversations of broken dreams and false hopes. A thin haze of cigarette smoke from an earlier crowd lingered in the air. Pushing through the fog and making his way to the bar, he gave a nod to the only waitress working the room. She was the owner of the establishment and her name was Alice. She smiled a glad-to-see-you-back.

Above the bar hung one of his paintings, an oil dark brown, blue and green of a ferry heading in from Staten Island under a light purple sky, the first one he sold after he settled in the Village. The bartender said, “I’ll make a fresh pot of coffee.” Rudy, a middle-aged man with a bit of a paunch, lived with Alice, had been with her for over ten years.

Rudy started the coffee and continued to dry the freshly washed glasses, facing Hank as he readied them for the next night’s patrons. “You been away for a couple of months.” It was more of a question than a statement. “Duchess was getting worried.” Duchess was his nickname for Alice.

“Haven’t been able to get it up for months,” Hank said. “That is, until yesterday.”

“Well, I’m here to tell you that you look like your old Hank self.”

“I go into the studio yesterday morning and boom, I’m back. Fifteen hours later, and you know what? I can’t figure where the time went. I haven’t been this psyched and ready for trouble for quite some time.”

“Fifteen hours?”

“When I get going, I go sometimes for days before a break. It’s like it’s raining and I don’t want the rain to stop. ‘Bring it on,’ I say. ‘Cause I know that if I quit I may never get that hard-on back. The muse, she don’t let you screw around. You’re either hers or you’re not. And, if you’re not, she won’t give you the time of day.”

Rudy sat a mug of hot coffee down in front of Hank, then left the artist to his thoughts. He knew his regulars. Some liked to sit and throw their troubles out and see where they landed. Others, and Hank belonged to this clan, liked to sit alone with their drinks and take things in.

Hank faced the woman at the piano finishing her set, doing a last song for the night. He had not seen her in the bar before. He enjoyed her playing enough to drop his thoughts about the session and concentrate on the music. It was Cole Porter coming from the piano. He wasn’t sure which Cole Porter but he was sure that it was one of his compositions. He had taken to the composer the way some men take to the sea.

Just the sound of one of his songs and he was off to his days in Paris. He and Cosette strolling along the banks of the Seine, families walking their dogs, mothers pushing strollers, boys chasing frisbees, kites rising above the landscape that was the City of Lights. The leaves falling on a perfect day. A man could drown in a memory like that.

Hank shook the memories away. It was time to let go of Paris. And Cosette. Three years was way too long to grieve for the loss of a marriage.

The woman at the piano looked through the dissipating smoke and over his way and smiled. He smiled back. Playing the last notes of the song, she said her goodnights to her audience.

The black cocktail dress eased her way across the room and next to him. “Scotch,” she said. Rudy nodded at her request. She leaned over and whispered into Hank’s ear, “Do you think people go to heaven? I mean, if they commit suicide?”

“When I do myself in,” he mumbled, then a little clearer, “I’ll send a message in a bottle back to you.”

“Think that will be any time soon?”

“Certainly hope not. But you never can tell,” he said, pulling a little away from her.

The pianist gave Hank that kind of look that people have when they come to a fork in the road and haven’t a clue which road to take other than flipping for it or using an eeny-meeny-miny-moe to make a choice.

The two went quiet, sitting at the bar next to each other, each settling into his thoughts, each losing themselves in their own subterranean world, each sipping his drink, each sitting on the brink of something about to happen, each waiting.

She took her lipstick out of a small, black purse and moistened her lips, touching them lightly with color. He watched, fascinated at the obscene thing she did with her mouth. Then she finished her scotch.

She leaned over toward his ear again and whispered another thing, a tinge of Brooklyn in her voice. “Want to do it?”

The soft, husky voice offering the invitation sent a thrill surging through his body. He wasn’t tired anymore, and Cosette was no longer anywhere to be found in his thoughts. If he wanted to move on, this was his chance. And it might be his last one, the grip of his Parisian life continuing to hold him with its vise.

“Is that an offer I can’t refuse?” he said, his face almost touching her face, his breath joining the rhythm of her breath.

“Why don’t you follow me and find out?”

She gestured to Rudy, and he passed her coat over to her. She started for the door, then turned to Hank and gave him her best Mae West, “You coming, big boy?”

He pulled himself off his stool and joined her, still hesitant but moving quickly to a decision.

Wrapping her arms around his, she kissed him, pushing her lips into his as if it was her last kiss. It was a Circe of a kiss that would make a man forget all his former loves and long for the bliss of it when it was a kiss no more. It was a deep kiss.

Her lips released his and her arms dropped to her side. He took several breaths to catch his breath.

“I’m Dorothy”.

“Hank,” he said, unable to come up with anything else to say. Her kiss had sucked all the other words from his vocabulary. He wasn’t even sure who this Hank was anymore.

“Hank?” she said, pulling her coat over her slender body.

“It short for Henri. I don’t like Henri but my mother did.”

Her face now had a question on it.

“She wanted an artist for a son. She chose Henri. Matisse’s first name.”

“Matisse, huh? Maybe you can paint my portrait. All in red and yellow. I like those colors.”

The two of them made it to the tavern door. Hank wasn’t sure how he got there but there he was.

“”You’ll be my first Henri,” she said.

He went to pull the door open and someone in the bar heard her say, “I have a good feeling about this. An old black magic kind of feeling.” Then she hummed the first bars of “Where or When.” The door closed behind them.

She looked up at the New York City night sky. Hank’s eyes followed her eyes.

“It’s going to be a bewitching, bothering and bewildering night.”

“What makes you say that?” He took her hand.

“’Cause the moon is full and it’s our time to fly,” she said, then she laughed. It was a laugh that said something is coming. She reached down and took his hand and felt his glove.

“You’re not trying to be Michael Jackson, are you?”

“No,” he answered, still struggling for words.

“Even so, maybe we can do some moon walking ourselves tonight.”

They began their walk back to the apartment above his studio. Hank had known love but he had never known sex. Least not the wild, uncontrollable sex they had that night. And the next night. And the night after that.

He was twenty-five; she was thirty. Within a week, she was his model. Within two weeks, they were living together. Within a month, they were married. Then the minute after they said their I-dos, he knew they had made a mistake. She knew it too. But neither of them were cowards. There was no going back. For better or worse, they had crossed their Rubicon.