Welcome to the fifth installment of our serialized novel. A summary of the plot so far: We are in the 80s, a time when life was bright orange. There was no such thing as Good Taste Grey. We are in a non-descript but comfortable building. The lobby looks like a subway stop. Walls that are not white and not beige either. Brownish. Fluroescent lights abound. Eve, 80s beautiful woman who actually owns a silver jumpsuit, Eva wants to be an actress. (She is my roommate). She’d just met a small man named Charles in our elevator. And Charles just moved in.
Charles was on the agoraphobic side. He told us when we met that he rarely went out, although going somewhere was always his intention. He claimed to like paintings, music, some modern dance, though seeing any of those was rare. Charles subscribed to a magazine called “Cue,” a precursor of TIME OUT. The entire magazine was an impartial listing of the plentitude of events that is always New York.
He carried three yellow markers in his pocket (in case one or two went dry, he said) and he would continually highlight events that he could attend, if ever he chose to leave. Visiting Larry in our building was a rare foray for him. Charles and Larry had gone to high school together, in Brooklyn.
The very first day of Charles, we all sat in our small living room. Eve and he were together on our velvet coach, as though they’d been together forever. He did not feel like a stranger, as peculiar as we were, he seemed perfectly comfortable in that room and I sat across from them in a big stuffed chair our super had given us. The chair was from the basement, just sitting there and Anibal brought it up one day, unsolicited, as a gift.
Our super, Anibal, was a handsome, generous Dominican man, lived on the second floor with his wife, who worked nights, and his tall teenage son.
I felt as though I were watching a play, the lone audience sitting on the side in my chair.
The very first conversation between them that I remember was something like this.
“Will you decide to tell us something about yourself?” Eve had the ability then, to be any character she chose.
“Why yes,” said Charles, suddenly southern.
“And what might that be?” she replied.
Although I am a natural interruptor, I did not. Not even to offer coffee or tea, or a glass of Mateus, our usual cheap wine. I listened as though I was hearing something important.
“My aunt Billie,” he began, “she actually wanted to be a go-go dancer and she got a job, a real paying job traveling with a group. They danced between band numbers. Billie is only 15 years older than me. She’s more like an older sister. She and my mother are the same number of years apart. Fifteen. Funny when you think about it that way. Billie fell in love with a famous musician. You’ve heard his name. He’s married, of course, but they’re kind of a couple. She says she loves him. Anyway, my grandmother had never heard of him. She invited Billie to bring her man friend to Friday night dinner. If she’d known he was married she never would have but she did because Billie is her baby daughter and she kept talking about Trini this and Trini that and finally my grandmother said, ‘OK, OK bring him over here to eat something’ and they all ate some chopped liver together, and some chicken and my grandmother made her delicious sour cream pound cake. Don’t you want to know what happened next?” he asked us both.
Esther Cohen posts a poem a day at esthercohen.com.