She smiled when asked if all her zippers were zipped. And she winked when I asked did she feel pretty, oh so pretty, witty and bright. 'Yes', she replied, 'but do you imagine I will be getting the key to the city?' I love when girls play along. Alas, there were no zippers present on her stunning white chiffon dress.
I skipped the tux, and went with the serious Autumn-chill John Barrymore motif:
The advantage was her small delicate hands constantly straightened the knot through the whole affair, and it meant no escape for her when I slouched to kiss her lips.
We agreed it would be marvelous if we stopped by to see if the Man With The Trumpet wanted to go to the gala. He did. He bathed quick, skipped the razor, seeing how he claimed a clean face made his sunken temples and cheeks quite eerie, and slipped on the one jacket he possessed. His trumpet was in a chair. I picked it up. It felt warm, and when I turned to him he was smiling at me with his hand outstretched. My date knew all along. She found he'd already been invited by the Grand Hostess. It was under his solitary table lamp:
Natalie kissed his cheek.
We arrived. At the entrance a rather confused Margaret Dumont kept bellowing, 'As Chairman of the reception committee I welcome you with opened arms'! We laughed as we could still hear her echo after we reached the ballroom.
Oh, the setting - the chandeliers, the smart miniature glowing table lamps, and the finest polished silver...so sparkling a good witch could unassumingly fidget with her hair.
And the tables of food; silver trays heaped and steaming, glasses of colored mirth liberally filled and refilled. I let the dead moth sauce pass on by. Once, after helping myself in the kitchen to the delicious burnt remains lining a pan (my favorite food!), I wandered off alone and found a small narrow cobwebbed door and forced it open. Uneven stairs lead to a cellar smelling of mowed grass. It was freezing cold, and shuddering to retreat I thought I heard movement like a scooting wood chair. I turned back and saw a white mist outline of a face. It whispered irritably, 'This is my place!' Although annoyed, there was a tone of relief in the voice as it could finally tell someone. I think I understood before I fainted.
I awakened in the smoke-filled library some unknown time later looking at a ceiling pattern with a small jelly glass of brandy to my lips. People were singing happy birthday off-key. I thought: how could anyone mess that song up? I sat up and it was a chuckling Vincent Price straightening my tie, looking mighty unconcerned about my well-being. I assured Natalie it was nothing after she tore him away from my throat. I told no one what I encountered. Did you see or hear anything unusual?
Well, Chet played wonderfully when the Gracious Host presented him with an introduction that made people weep with joy. After a few nodding whispers with the rotund piano man and a quick wave to the man with drumsticks tucked under his arm, he played and sang effortlessly, causing young barefoot dancer's hearts to ease, and yes, could've made the ghost in the cellar sigh...
The girl clutched close, and accompanied Chet and a milky-white full moon with a soft humming duet. It was a beautiful evening, I had a wonderful time at Willow Manor, and the girl was laughing.
He leaped across the shallow muddy creek, misjudging the water's width and his own beer-bellied girth, falling with the butt of the shotgun pounded into the soft creek underbelly like a stake through a napping Dracula's heart. He broke his fall reaching out to the sharp gravel with his shooting hand, and was bleeding. It made him more furious for the score to settle. He limped with soaked pant legs up to sore knees along the farm-road by the graveyard, past a thick shrubbery full of scattering blackbirds and a tree housing an abandoned hornet's nest. Beyond a splintered white gate he inspected both barrels. Clean for the kill.
Only days before, as the judgement against him for amount due was being read, tears rolling down his face onto a stiff white collar, he saw hope fading, and it reminded him of a line from an old movie for those with their backs to the wall: Do they know what a shotgun is for? Must be a pellet for every one hundred dollars owed, he thought.
The plaintiff stood on his porch, knowing what a shotgun was for. Stood there holding his suspender straps. He had a terrible scar on his chin that made him look as though he was constantly smiling; made you just naturally resent him like you were a clown he was amused by. The sight was raised to his gut, hand with gravel embedded remarkably steady, breathing calm from both fellows. One cricket started to sing, others in the chorus hesitant.
"I got my dog", the smiling man said, fearless.
The sorrowful man relaxed his trigger finger, lowered the sights slightly, and stood listening, scanning the porch, stable, and barn. Satisfied there was no beast he took aim once more. Wait a moment - there came in the silence of the crickets a slight crackling of maybe a trampling of hay, a hurried rustling. He turned his head and looked into the forbidden gentle eyes of the dog behind a narrow broken plank of the barn.
The dog snorted, sounding like farm machinery chugging after a winter thaw. Eye contact set the cast between the hunter and prey. He felt the blood drain from his head, dropped the gun and ran, the dog pounding its head against the narrow opening. That was the last anyone saw of the gunman, wheezing and coughing, a sprint through the woods like a charging elephant knocking down trees. A general alarm was issued for the mad man. People in the village triple-checked their deadbolts at dusk.
Three days later the local constable found the man dead, wide-eyed fright etched into a stone face, sprawled face up in a dry creek bed, the crime scene illuminated in a posse of dim lanterns.
Way back in another time, when you were just naturally polite, women were not suspicious, nor overly cautious with an eyebrow hiked - now, it seems, you may be guilty of felonious flirting. And forget about holding the door open for them. I've been barked at for that atrocity. You are allowed to tip your hat because men don't wear hats anymore.
Eye contact is also scratched from the list. Or so I thought. In a crowded elevator recently I smiled at a woman with serene blue-gray eyes and she smiled back. She did not look away, and I tried to hang on with a natural smile, not something forced like an undertaker, or the grin of a great uncle looking serious in a lost oil painting hidden in an attic.
I couldn't help but notice the gray swimming with the blue in her magnificent eyes, and time stopped, as much as time could stop in a hurling box stuffed with humans. We were the only ones not looking down at glowing little screens full of cryptic sentences, seeming lost as though squinting nearsighted at an old compass in a shrouded fog, frozen with fear, hesitant at a strange pterosaur blocking a path least taken. 'I believe North might be that way', I said doubtfully above a whisper, and she laughed silently, playing along, just before we zoomed past the eighth floor and braked in slow motion with a soft poof at ground level. I held the determined finger-crushing bank vault door for her and she thanked me, adding,'North seems just about right'. I replied, 'you're welcome', and time started once again.