People often ask me what my profession is, what my act is. You will find me nestled in the article shrubbery of some joint or another, caressing my paper with some long-faithful fine-nibbed pen or another and irritating the people around me with my silent self-satisfaction. It evidently causes annoyance – an occupation no one can ever quite contemplate, yet we all do it, I am convinced.
It was only the last week when I was in attendance at some irrelevant Soho theatre or other, perched with a cigar thick between my teeth and my legs crossed customarily so my shoes did not quite touch the floor, swinging softly. I enjoy these peculiarities of life, enjoy the opportunity to observe the artificiality of place, of face. Smoking listlessly, letting the smoke linger in large rings above me, I watched the current ‘society belle’ – in plain terms, the current object of ravenous public focus – descend the theatre steps to the front stalls with a self-conscious precision. I knew I was not the only one staring at her.
Dolores Win moved in a way which was almost exclusively sensual. Her body seemed borne upwards slightly with every step, as if intercepting a sweeping embrace - to which her long lacquered fingers responded with a pianists peculiarity of motion. But it was her movement which was so extraordinary, allowing for the pronounced curve of her hips, the immaculate timing of her walk.
She had a broken foot.
From the last grand society party, in one well-extended Manhattan roof-deck or another, I knew she had broken it only the previous week after an unfortunate innocent involving a slightly warm Pina-Colada and a water fountain. Ah yes, Dolores Win had never been much more than a society woman – refined in a sense of the unremarkable – seeking to attract approval.
Now she had managed the extra step – she attracted attention. Yes, there was a layer of negativity to it, but her agent – a bristling young man with an agitated step beside her whom I was on familiar terms with, the occasional cocktail – told her that the pain would distract her from the public reception.
Dolores and her agent were seated in the plush row of chairs behind me - I could hear her dress crackling against the floor, the kind of dress which brushed weightlessly against the skin of strangers and left more than an ounce of remembrance. I looked behind me, attempting a vague glance whilst she was busied getting into her seat. The foot of concern was almost at a level of repair – the skin just shining slightly with exertion over the bone which installed her body with such movement it made the very sinews of one’s frame feel inferior, just by watching her. Her feet stretched fawningly against the floor in her finely-tailored sandals which seemed designed as if to emphasize the wonder of the injury. Some of those positioned in the theatre had worn eye-glasses for the occasional.
“Strange it is,” I heard a man beside me remark to his overtly-preened wife, whose lips appeared to be thick with a mixture of lacquer and icing sugar, awful beneath her red hair. His gaze revolved to Dolores Win and back again. “They say other girls are attempting to imitate it – desperate you know. There have been five in the hospital this week…”
I lost track of the languorous tone of his voice as I felt firm fingers drum questioningly against my shoulder. I turned to find the face of Dolores’ agent – Robert Will, once the best quarter-back in the whole of Yale - almost confidentially close to mine.
“Hey Ady,” He whispered casually, speaking through the indelicate finger of a cigar which occasionally bent back at a split in the middle to brush against his rusty bristles “Lola here wants to know what you do…”
Lola. He had his little title of objectification for her and everything. My eyes moved to the girl – her body contorted slightly in an artificial giggle so her foot was thrust forward, like a mind of exhibition, probably instructed. She had blonde hair so fine it seemed to melt into the dying, pre-performance light with impeccable richness, and to accompany it, a complexion close to confectioners’ sugar. It made me almost feel weak to look at her.
I attempted informality.
“Honey,” I began, as her eyes strayed to an apparently curious point just beyond my left shoulder, it seemed “ I am an audience.”
There seemed suddenly to be something very philosophical in what I was saying, what I wanted to say – whether subconscious of it at first or not. I noticed her hot blue eyes widen, and opened by mouth to correct myself.
But, there is something attractive in suffering.
This society confirmed it.
For little, delicate Dolores Win had never heard the confession that everyone else around her was gazed in the occupation of watching, of observer. Her lingering sweet mouth suddenly slammed shut as if she had been hit, hard. Perhaps she knew more than I did. Her beguilingly short nails, probably purposeful too, gripped at the painfully slumberous silk satin of her dress. She knew, suddenly, terribly. It was a strange kind of voyeurism to watch the beauty of horror align the contours of her face.
But that was only seconds before I turned to watch the performance, the curtains finally drawing open like a live wound. I was an audience again – and engaged fondly in my role.
I was lost until the devastating darkness of the final act was suddenly interrupted for me by a hasty rustling behind my chair. It was the voice, and the familiar, fixated movements of Robert Will I remembered so distinctly from hours of football – deft motions which seemed to concentrate all surrounding sound.
“None of this …. No, I don’t want to go, I don’t want –“ He whined.
He was evidently mimicking her, his voice amplified by the cruel crunching of his lips.
He returned to his normal tone.
“You have to Lo,” Lo again. The beautiful Dolores with a plastic man beside her. Almost horrible, his voice was blunt, slightly bordering on aggression as I heard the slight damp drag of a male hand against a smaller shoulder “You know how it is.”
The darkness made their game more cruelly entertaining, I thought at the time.
Robert nudged me roughly as he sidled along his row, pushing Dolores in front him to leave – I could tell by the uncertain sharp slaps of her shoes on the cold floor.
“We’re leaving now, Pal.” He lowered his voice to a whisper “People are losing interest, you know, it’s not like it was…”
I stared questioningly at the stage, hearing the drag of Dolores’ dress now some distance away.
“No, not the damned theatre, you fool!” His voice close to my ear seemed uncomfortably stressed between a sneer and a chuckle. “Lola. She knows it has to happen – keeps the money coming in, you know. One smack at the foot with one of the golf-clubs and we’ll be fine…”
I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, though he departed hurriedly, leaving me staring emptily at the stage in a cloud of stale smoke.
Anyway, it was their game.