Some Enchanted Evening
I first saw him; worn trench coat buttoned to his chin, his hands dug deep into its pockets, trying in vain, from the looks of him, to keep warm against the late night chill, on the corner of Madison & Fifty-seventh, snow-flurries dancing around his shoes. He leaned against a light pole, it being littered top to bottom with assorted torn and faded fliers, with the entirety of it -- him, the pole, the advertisements –all backlit by the flashing red-white-red-white-red-white of The Avenue Diner’s We-Are-Now-Closed neon sign, creating, to my mind’s eye anyway, a surreal scene. He seemed in no real hurry despite the chill, despite the lateness of the hour, seemed in fact to be just passing the time waiting for the going-his-way streetlight to change to a more advantageous hue. And even from the distance of a quarter-of-a-block away, I felt his aloneness; his self-containment, his apartness. And I found myself wanting to know why.
The hour being late, I had decided to walk Suzie home and there was a real taste of late-fall turning to winter in the air. We’d just left Marcie’s ‘New Loft Kick-Off Party', her third in the five years I’d known her since I’d first arrived in New York from Texas in the summer of ’47. Since leaving the party, our sole topic of conversation, Suzie’s and mine, had been to wonder how long this loft would last before, on one fine and early morning, the city, having under the cover of darkness slated the condemned tenement building for demolition, would scatter its artists-in-residence, Marcie included, to other such light-flooded, cavernous, cheap and derelict warehouses in and around especially lower Manhattan.
We had come to no firm conclusion when Suzie also saw him, had reached no real consensus before she suddenly called out to him, “Hey, Jax, hey!! What has you out so late on this blustery night?” And right before my eyes, my world so very unexpectedly began to fall into place. She knew him; or at least of him so, he must also know of her and soon, fates be willing, he would know of me.
When he looked away from the crosswalk, lazily redirecting his gaze towards us, when he smiled kind of quiet-like to her, finally standing a little away from his pillar of wood, my heart beat as if in time to some warm, up-tempo Spanish cancion, all strumming guitars and rhythmic maracas. So full of possibility. He remained where he was, his head cocked as if wary, or amused? at her approach.
“Nothin’ much, Suzie, nothin’ much,” he called out, his words tinted with the pure light of the south, and there was some hint of comfort in knowing that we shared a familiar birthright. Because even if my east Texas wasn’t exactly his deep south, our common ground was sure enough more encouraging than most anything else found in New York. The flashing red-white-red-white of that neon sign combining up with the ghostly-pale cream of the streetlight marked his face as thin…too thin, nearly gaunt and his hair as translucent blond. And I wanted to know, had in fact a sudden as if burning desire, to become intimately acquainted with, the color of his eyes.
I noticed him noticing when the streetlight changed to the very color he’d undoubtedly been waiting for all along and he shifted towards it, aware of its beckoning, but hesitating, finally deciding, he remained, as I imagined it, in a kind of surrender to the moment. He smiled, sidelong and shy toward me, while Suzie being Suzie, waltzed right up and into his arms, draping herself along his chest and he, choosing toleration, momentarily rested his cheek on her head.
Pushing him away just a little, she tried again. “’Nothing’ isn’t an answer, Jax and you know it isn’t. So tell me now, what has you out so late?” Hesitation, then, “Oh, I know, you’re just getting off work, aren’t you? You’re on your way home after yet another grueling evening at that dusty old bookstore, aren’t you? Why do I always forget you have the night shift on Fridays? And how very unfortunate since you miss out on so much of the fun, And for what?”
“Food. Rent. Supplies.” He smiled slightly and shrugged, making her laugh.
And finally turning to me, acknowledging that I was still there, Suzie said, “Did you know, Matthew, that Jax works at Marboro Books? You know, over on Madison and Sixtieth.”
Now it was my turn to smile. “Sure, I know of the place, next to the Woolworth, right? I’ve been in there a couple of times, might’ve even bought something, a book or--”
“That I know of, you bought a book on Duchamp and the Dada--”
“However could you know that?” Suzie said, pulling back from him just a bit more and looking directly into his eyes, while, patiently so patiently, I waited for what he had to say next.
“Nothing sinister, I assure you,” he said, smiling to Suzie. Then he turned to me. “I’d just started my shift when I saw you in the art section...early 20th Century. Not that many buy art books, let alone those dealing with Dada, so…I noticed, is all.” Having turned from me back to Suzie, he directed a quick glance toward me, an eyebrow raised, with a slightly suggestive smile.
“You’ve guessed our little secret, haven’t you, you clever man?” And with that I suddenly found her now draped along my side. “And you are absolutely right, Jaxon. Quite the item, Matthew and me, and frankly we have been for simply hours now. In all honesty, ever since this morning when his divorce finally came through. So, naturally, when he gallantly offered to walk me home from Marcie’s--”
“The christening of her newest studio. That was tonight?”
“Exactly. And let me tell you, that woman can really tie-one-on. But then, who am I to talk? or to even judge for that matter, but as I was just saying, when Matthew offered me safe conduct through these treacherous avenues, I--”
“You only live two, three blocks away from Marcie’s new place, Suz.” And turning to me, looking me straight in the eye, Jaxon said, “Should I offer my congratulations or condolences.”
“Congratulations, absolutely,” Suzie said, cutting right over him, and me, inserting herself between us. “While Deborah is a perfectly lovely woman, also a painter you know--”
“Actually,” Jaxon said, as his eyes of still unknown color, shifted back to her, “I don’t know.” Said with just the slightest of smiles, and I was convinced I could hear angels high above, a heavenly choir, that sang hymns of hope and yearning.
And for a second Suzie was silenced, a miracle unto itself, before finally, the light dawned. “My God, where are my manners? You two don’t even know each other, do you? I thought I’d already…well, never mind. Jax, please, allow me to present Mr. Matthew Michelson. And Matthew…Mr. Jaxon James. There, now that that’s all rectified…”
And as I watched them talk, well actually as I watched Suzie talk, her hands two small birds fluttering through her hair, arranging and rearranging her short brown bob, and watched Mr. Jaxon James listen, his hands dug once again deep into his pockets, him responding at given intervals with a nod or shake of his elegant head. I wondered why, along with those hymnal singing angels, why dazzling Chinese fireworks weren’t also filling up the midnight blue skies over mid-town Manhattan, whirling and bursting above us in spontaneous and delighted affirmation. I half expected tightrope walkers, balanced by brightly colored umbrellas, to waltz along the high wire of electrical lines that crisscrossed the intersection. Or for some intercollegiate marching band to parade down Madison, batons flying, trumpets blaring, and cymbals crashing, festooned front to back with striped and crested banners waving. And with a bass drum keeping time with the pounding of my heart.
And yet, as I searched heaven above and earth below, everything seemed just the same. So normal. So mundane. There wasn’t even a silvery blimp, banner trailing behind, with lighted letters ten feel high spelling out ‘Your Destiny Awaits, Matt. Go for it, Son’. Because, truth be told, for me the very ground itself seemed to have tilted to a peculiar and giddy angle. I’d never been one to believe in love at first sight. Such notions were the foolish dreams of young girls and the unrealistic offerings of romance novelists and 19th Century poets. But lust at first sight? Now there was a notion I had always held very dear to my heart. Even if I hadn’t had that much opportunity for firsthand experience, but now, I had. In him, I had.
My God, he was gorgeous, soft, delicate almost, almost poetic. Seemed as if he might very nearly be ill, undernourished. Maybe that was why I’d thought of a poet and so pale. And I was struck dumb by the realization that only a minute or two sooner or later or without Suzie by my side and I might’ve missed him. Still, as much as I wanted to remain in this place, he was restless, shivering slightly. I could tell he wanted to be on his way so, at first pause I stuck out my hand and said, “Good to meet you, Jaxon. I hate to rush off like this, but I should probably be getting Suzie home. It is still some distance from her place to mine and it’s getting fairly late.” I wanted him to know, I wouldn’t be staying the night with her.
“Good to meet you,” he said, taking my hand in a firm shake. I’ll maybe see you around and Suzie, I will see you at Michael and Patsy’s next Saturday, won‘t I?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world. You’ll be there too, won’t you, Matthew?”
“I think I might.” And at that precise moment the streetlight changed to green, the cross-traffic slowed, came to a halt, for what I’d counted to be the fourth time since our encounter had begun,.and the late-night crowd flocked into the crosswalk.
“Good,” he said. And nodding, he was off too, joining the late-night crowd, striding across Madison Avenue as we continued on down it. I glanced back and saw it as he disappeared into the moon-made shadow of a corner apartment building. He never looked back.
For those two remaining blocks to Suzie’s, I found myself whistling ’Some Enchanted Evening’, while she quietly sang along. Arriving, walking her up the steps of her building, leaving her leaning against the door, I headed back down to the sidewalk, happy to be on my way.
“You should know, I’ve wanted to introduce the two of you. Kind of thought I already had, but anyway, I knew you’d…like him,” she confessed.
I turned back to her, stood quiet, calm in front of her. “I do, Suzie. And so do you.”
She shrugged, ducking her eyes, shy, of all things, with me. “To the victor go the spoils, my dearest Matthew, and no hard feelings either way, right?”
“He’s not some village to be plundered, Suz. He---”
“He’s confused, Matthew. Doesn’t want to admit to certain things, and who can blame him, times being what they are. He’s new to New York, young, shy, from Georgia, has a preacher-man Grandfather or some such who raised him, and, most importantly, is kind of new to the idea of who he really is. It’s someone like me he wants, who he thinks he’s supposed to want, but it’s someone like you he needs.”
She looked so earnest, so in need of my understanding. And I did. “It’s moments like these, woman, when I can’t help but remember why I love you so.”
Had the light been better, I probably would have seen her blush. “Just stop, Matthew and listen to me. He won’t be easy, not like Simon–“
“Ah, yes. Dear ole Sye.” Just speaking his name and I felt my tension increase three-fold so that even just standing still became nearly impossible. “You mean the Sye who ended up crushing my heart, who ended up not only most ably assisting me in the whole-sale destruction of my marriage, but who then, after inviting me on a little European-getaway, dumped my previously desirable ass for some Italian Contessa or other. Now married, I hear he’s painting big beautiful paintings in some ancient fucking villa overlooking some ancient fucking--”
“My point, Matthew dear, is that Jaxon is afraid.” Apparently while I wasn’t paying attention, she’d left her door jamb, suddenly next to me. I felt the touch of her hand on my elbow bringing me back from sun-soaked Italian shores. “So, what I’m saying is that you’ll have your work cut out for you. Unlike with Sye who pretty much just fell into your arms. Jaxon will require time and patience. I wonder how much of either of those traits you possess. Plus, you’ll quite possibly have me to contend with.”
“Then why’d you want us to meet?” I looked across at the sleeping apartment buildings that made up her block, avoiding Suzie eyes.
“Knew you would eventually anyway.” She stepped right in front of me, held both of my wrists tight. She made me look at her. “Plus, despite what I may want, I may also have some idea what is right.”
Closing my eyes, I said, “How can you be so sure he’s--”
“Matthew, trust me, a woman just knows these things. A woman who’s interested anyway.” She touched her fingertips to my cheek so I eased a little, sighed. “Those little clichés actually do have some reasoning behind them.”
“He’s hit me hard, Suzie.” Taking a deep breath, I let it out slowly and as I did, I felt my tension leave me.
“I knew he would.”
Was there a hint of sadness to her smile? “So, like you said, no hard feelings?” I smiled my best and reassuring smile.
“No hard feelings, ever,” she whispered as I cupped her chin in my palm, as I kissed her sweet and easy, the way me and Suzie have always been with each other.
Nothing and no one would change that. Not a marriage that never should have happened despite it bringing into my life my darling baby boy. Not an expatriate lover who kicked in my teeth when he deserted me in foreign lands. And for a woman no less. And not even some pretty poetic blond found loitering on a mid-town Manhattan street corner.
“Nothing comes between you and me, girl, you know that, right?”
“Nothing, Matthew, ever. This I rely on.”
Watching as she entered the building, she turned briefly in the doorway to smile goodnight to me. Despite the cold, I found I was warm inside and for the two remaining blocks to my subway stop, the one that would take me to my very own condemned, and undoubtedly soon to be demolished, lower Manhattan warehouse, I whistled my new found favorite tune because this certainly had shown itself to be some kind of enchanted evening.