THE WHOLE PLACE BLEW UP

September 26, 2013


There’s a character in The Day of the Locust. His name is Harry. He’s a failed Vaudevillian. And his image has stuck in my head.

THE WHOLE PLACE BLEW UP

Hands on the pedestal. Toes tapping. Fingers snapping. OOOE. Charlie What Was His Last Name slid down the aisle. Knee knockers. Of the drug store. His body incredibly still. His feet like clippers over your neighbourhood hedge. In a swirl. Soft shoe. Sand between his toes. Put your ear to the floor. Don’t it sound sad? Vaudeville. There was laughter in his shoes. His fingers snarled. And the air, it just stood there shy and naked.

Charlie stopped up at the make-up counter, his chin pointed toward the ceiling. Really He was feeling it. His back arched, heels spinning, the sequins on his trousers and his vest squinting at the store lights. His fingers tapped the glass top, one over each, ever so lightly. His fingernails recently manicured, cured of melancholy. He tipped his green bowler hat, the hat he’d been given by the deputy mayor on St. Patrick’s Day. The hat rolling down his arm, to a hand, which caught it seftly. Like Jack Duffy caught that hay maker, and placed it back on his noggin. There was a smile on his mug. They were chums never parted. Like cousins under mosquito netting.

“How are you doing today, Charlie?” Deborah Hall asked. The cosmetician was deeply immersed in a magazine. Fashion research. She Liked It Hot And Rough,was written across the magazine’s face. And there were lots of tips inside. How to make chocolate cake without putting on a pound. And what he really wants under the sheets. Charlie knew that they liked it rough in Hamilton. Of course there was always the horn section, dipping their silver mouths into the hot molasses. They liked to call it jazz.

Charlie batted his eyelashes. His head jerked toward Jerusalem and then toward Deborah. His smile was forked, almost demonic. If only humans had never learned to speak, we could all order hamburger tartar in mime.

“Well,” he declared like a full committee of the learned and the privileged. And added, just as an aside, “And how are you?” His voice was theatrical as if it had been trained in a private school in Switzerland. His mouth the bulldog in the dog house. Hearing a funny little sound from his gut, which he didn’t understand, it being pure slang, which only the thugs on Queen Street understood or cared to understand.

Whateva!” the cosmetician responded shrugging her shoulders in a very melodic manner as if her movements had been choreographed by a Spaniard at Juliards turning the pages of her magazine, her fingers like Fred Astaires.

Charlie relaxed, his body melting from some celestial pose. He leaned over the counter like a flaccid Dali time piece, making ‘I’ contact.

“Well, here’s one to put a smile on your lovely face,” Charlie said. And he loved Deborah’s lovely face. Would have put it on a postage stamp, signed her up to play Joan the last woman on the ark. But a trombone blasted the image of Deborah in his ear, smudged his hair, and misspent his youth. “A woman walks up to the beautician and asks, ‘Can you make me beautiful?’ ‘Hey,’ cries the beautician, ‘I’m a beautician, not a magician.’

Charlie smiled, tipped his hat once more with juggling delight, than sashayed gaily down the aisle.

Deborah looked up from her magazine with a bored glance and watched Charlie disappear around the corner.

Whateva!” she sighed and returned to her work. And the whole place blew up in silence.

 

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