A free short story: Thirty Words At Best

Manhattan. Plaza Hotel. The Oak Bar. A wait to enter. A proper crush at five. Black jacketed servers gliding and sliding.  Suits and skirts and the day’s articulations. Neil Simonized floors, obscured by genuine leather uppers. Tiny round tables, barely enough to hold skyscraper martinis. At sitting height, all bodies merge into a sophisticated organism. Trim waistlines and paunchy belt lines, decorated with pinstripes and silks. The regulars wore black for the most part, some wore dark gray. The neophytes stood out because they did not know about this color code. Like the cowboy who showed up alone but wasn’t looking to stay that way. His snakeskin confidence shouted misfit to those he’d pressed into at the SRO corral. His broad stance and Texas swagger violated the sensibilities of everyone in proximity, so he failed. Proud man from the Lone Star, pinned hard to the dirt like a cut bull at branding. He left the dim ambience of the Oak Room, surrendering to those he could now mock with authority. But the truest defeat of the evening began to unfold with the arrival of a couple who fit in. They were guided to a table that seemed less crowded than most, which presented them nicely, subjects of a portrait. Special care was taken with the man, who was slight in stature, dressed with enough panache to draw attention, and blind. The black beret he wore sent a multilingual, multi-channel message to the others in the room, alerting them to his precise location. The plaid scarf draped over his shoulders had much the same affect, but with a luminously ceremonial quality that suggested a certain stature. He might easily be taken for an accomplished professor, who had transcended academia to take his place at the speakers’ table of popular culture. But no amount of professorial arrogance could account for the important way he held his head, or for the deferential manner of his beautiful companion. Which left but one truly entertaining explanation for this unsighted spectacle of a man in perhaps the nation’s most famous lounge: He must be an author. She, on the other hand, was in no particular hurry to reveal her story line, initially opting to provide nothing more than glinting hints and graceful clues.  A pale, oval-faced brunette with her hair pulled back smartly but not tightly, she had the look of a powdered geisha, attracting and reflecting light with no effort. Dark lipstick, gently arching eyebrows, stoic diamond solitaires perched in her discreet ears and one diamond suspended happily in the midst of her Audrey H. neckline, she was contained. Serene, like a butterfly on a windless afternoon, parked on a perfect blossom, comfortable with the decision she made to spend time there, understanding that the choice is always hers. Their server approached them, recognized them, knew their order without being told, took it to the bartender, who, like the jaded waiter, anticipated what she’d do, how she’d cheat. The couple spoke little—thirty words at best—but she touched him frequently, straightening his scarf, lightly brushing his cheek with three scented fingers, patting his arm reassuringly. Her diamond ring said she was his, and that he needn’t worry, but she was alluring and he’d been blinded by love and some other merciless disease. So he could not do what must be done when with a beauty in public; he could not defend against the admiring glances of other men. They seemed to know as much, not by what he did or didn’t do, but by the captivating way she presented herself, by her air. She made an announcement with her body that enunciated more clearly than any vocalization trying to conquer the erudite roar of that storied room. She made a fool and a failure out of a successful man, making an art of subtle deceit, making time with her eyes. Maybe she’d made some backroom deal with herself, rationalizing that untold sacrifices for the man justified some secret entertainments for the woman. Or maybe it wasn’t quite as complicated as all that: Was she desperate to be seen because her fiancé never would? Impossible to know, of course, because she only revealed what she intended in that setting, that sadly larcenous happy hour. Graceful fingers ran a decoy by simply touching his hand, while her eyes threw the question in all directions. “Could you, if the circumstances were different, contemplate a certain level of deliciously anonymous intimacy, you and me? Don’t be afraid of me, or think the worst because I happen to be with this iconographic man. Please, think only of what rugged magic might erupt between the two of us, what shameless fun.” She’d become a silent siren, and she offered up a drink called disaster on the rocks. Yes, she was accomplished, as evidenced by the stranger who brushed her as he left. He offered his card discreetly, silently, confidently, doing nothing to alert her hapless companion. She took the paper rectangle from the air, from between two new fingers. Her head did not lift, her demeanor held steady, her lips engorged. It was another triumph, another classic motorcar in the collector’s garage. And with that, she settled down into their predictable evening. Let the rest of it go as it must. Do the noble things that need nightly doing. Bask in the sympathetic light of subordination. Justify deceptions as barely adequate compensation. Find new ways to continue. To endure this life. This well-heeled Hell. This town. Manhattan. #mswl #longliveshortfiction 

Dan Cox