I stepped onto that stage for the final time last night. Lights glittered across the room, glancing off the mirrors behind the bar, the martini glasses, the silver and diamonds dripping from the patrons, and off the polished, angular sculpture at the back of the stage, behind me. I could see the sculpture, and me in front of it, reflected around the room.
Singing there was like singing at the top of the Chrysler Building. Singing there, I felt glamourous. Magical. Elegant. Last night, everything seemed to glitter more brightly as I allowed myself the indulgence of believing my act one final time.
For the few hours each night that I stepped onto that stage, I became someone else. I became that mysterious beauty that everyone thought they knew. I became whatever they imagined; the women who wanted to be me, the men who wanted to have me.
But none of them knew me. They just owned me. They would eye my angular features, my slim, pale hands and body, my bobbed hair right off the latest cover of Vogue, my exquisite gowns, and they would get that dreamy, hungry look on their faces.
But for me, despite the brief indulgences I allowed myself, it was always just a job, just a persona I slipped on, just a chance to sing. Really, I have always been just another girl in the city trying to get by.
They wouldn’t recognize me on the street, those patrons with their hungry dreams. Only those in my building knew both sides of my life. They saw me come and go over these past few years and they eyed me with their judgement.
It’s all over now but I know they will still look at me as they always have.
Tomorrow, I begin my new life. Tomorrow I become respectable.
But today, I am caught somewhere in between.
The harpist is practicing next door. Her beautiful water music trickles through the golden-lit day. The sun’s rays stretch through the window, between the cracks in the blinds and into my room. All this tells me that it’s past midday. It’s time I was getting up.
I turn the percolator on and stand at the window, watching the city go by while I wait for the coffee. I light a cigarette and squint my eyes at the sun which is now streaming in through the screen of smoke. When the coffee is done and I’ve had my bath, I dress and ready myself for the day. It’s the first time in years that I haven’t been on my way out to a club for the night. Instead, I’m going for a walk in the park – a luxury.
When the elevator doors open, two sneering faces look back at me. I almost hesitate but instead I hold my head high and step in, turning around to face their skewed reflections in the burnished brass doors. More than once these women have hissed at me from behind the trappings of their tired, acceptable lives. It’s their fear, their jealousy that they’re hissing at, though. It’s not really meant for me. Still, I would have preferred to have avoided them today.
“Wicked!” whispers Mrs. Emerson from apartment 5C as she nods her head in my direction. I can see her looking me up and down and shaking her head, though I know there is nothing in my walking attire that anyone could possibly find fault with.
Mrs. Dodd from 7B matches her expression and nods, “wicked and immoral,” she replies, not bothering to lower her voice.
When the doors finally, mercifully, open, I gather myself and head for the door, walking with as much purpose and poise as I can muster. I am channelling my onstage persona.
“Good afternoon, Miss Abigail,” says the doorman as he prepares to hail me a cab. I had been so caught up in my escape that I hadn’t seen him there.
“Not today, thank you, George,” I reply with a smile. I wait until the two women leave before heading in the opposite direction.