..already all day, Tifny knew; but now, night in this twelve step under -spanky smelling- chrome, tinsel toned dive- she was certain that something not her fault was about to happen anyway..!
Sure- there’s no getting around it; the place is a dive. A twelve step under -spanky smelling- chrome, tinsel toned dive. But who was the headliner? Whose name in white silver lights out front; whose act giving the dive its claim to class? Tifny Grace. That’s who. Know Micky understands that. Trying to make me do trash. Lord how he’s tried! Man knows my act’s not cheap drag. Won’t have none of this chintzy taffeta sequined gaudy polyester shit. Not even in the same room. ’Cause baby everyone knows your Art is so fucking stellar, Micky’d kill himself before seeing you leave. Even be down on his knees -begging you not to go.
Her reflection reconsidered. Tifny broke off her stare.
The place was a dive- period. It’d never be anything else. And though her act was professional -she hadn’t been asked to play The Palladium. As yet.
She took up her compact -a worn silver crescent- and smoothed a powdered ratty puff across a shiny patch of cheek.
There was a slight taping at her door- “Fifteen, honey” -then footsteps moving down the hall. Tifny was concentrating. She always concentrated before her performances. She was a professional. None of this diva shit, but she had her rituals. ‘Silence before curtain’. Her most adamant rule. She saved every ounce of her energy for her fans; for her show.
In final appraisal, she looked hard at herself.
Her skin was the color of caramel butter; the colors that accentuated her, ranged from bright to black. The eyes were key; they were almost almond shaped. She had highlighted them in kohl; used an aquamarine pencil on the lids. Gently. Lightly. Giving herself an exotic shading. A heavier hand would have turned the effect into farce -but in Tifny’s grace, the grotesque seemed to transmute into genius. Her lips had never been sensuous. They were neither pouty nor prim. They were plain. But after her ministrations, they were proud; intelligent; sufficient. And her hair-..Tonight her hair...-her -hair.
“Shit.” Tifny ran a hand through the black rag. It was useless. No one knew how she suffered. How she tried. Because it was so baby fine -it refused to be instructed. It would fall out of any shape she contrived to leave it in. So -finally- she had been forced to cut it; to paste it into a page boy. And swear.
But -”Ten, honey”- the hair tonight was limp again. Dry; bored. It sat on her head like some cheap dead crow: wings over her ears - tail in her eyes -beak at her neck; sad! “Shit.”
There’d never be a remedy for it. No one in her family had good hair; “crop hair” is what her grandmother used to call it. “Lookin’ like it couldn’t grow nowhere but on a cotton bush. -Or an ear of corn.” And then she’d cackle.
Tifny sighed, and began the search through the clutter on her tiny table to find the comb.
“Can’t even grieve without someone telling me to be careful of the boy!”
Tilford was on his back staring out into the night at all the stars in heaven.
“No one’s saying-”
“Everyone. Everyone’s saying. ‘Do this’ -’don’t do that.’ ‘Make sure you watch out for him. It’s gotta be a blow.’ -Well what the hell is it supposed to be to me? Huh? -She’s dead, Clare.”
“-Dead. My wife..-she’s..-”
Tilford decided that the star out the window on the left -the big bright blue white one- was his mother. It kept winking at him.
“You gotta understand Curtis..-he’s only a child. Only a little boy-”
The word struck Tilford across the face. He could feel his cheeks burning. He shouldn’t be listening. But they were talking so loud. They were in the living room, and that was all the way down the hall- but he could hear every word.
“I know you loved her so much. You know I did too. She was like a sister to me. A best friend. And I know she’s gone. And I know you’re hurting. But you got a little boy who needs you. A little thing that doesn’t understand that she’s not coming back anymore. That it had nothing to do with him. Or you. -You gotta fight for that boy Curtis. You gotta make him-”
“Why? -Make me a bad parent I don’t run in there and hold him? Never did before. Never once. That’s me. He knows it. Anything different would scare him. Make him think something’s wrong.”
“Something is wrong Curtis. His mama’s gone. And Doctor Weiss-”
“Is too full of shit to know the difference between his back pocket and a pig sty.”
“All right. Maybe you don’t agree.”
“My son doesn’t need no doctor-”
“Your son needs his father.”
“I’m right here.”
“In another room. All the time. Away from him-”
“Leave me alone-”
Tilford squeezed Dino into one ear; his pillow into the other. Then he threw his blanket (with a picture of the solar system) over his head and curled up into the tightest ball.
The phone rang fifteen times -a hollow insistent echoing in Tifny’s ear. Then
The voice that came at her was so soft -so unexpectedly gentle -Tifny caught her breath.
Nearer wakefulness; the tint of impatience pricked her. “How?” One word; that’s all he deserved.
There was a pause. The line was very clear. She could hear his breathing; he could feel hatred.
“I said ‘how’? -That’s all I want to know. How?”
“Don’t hear a word in years -and the only one I get is ‘how’? Doesn’t seem worth the call, at..” the sound of bed springs “-four in the morning.”
Tifny’s hands were trembling; her annoyance might not hold out for this. “I just want to know how she died. That’s all.”
Silence. This silence ruptured Tifny’s anger; it fastened on something incredible. “You didn’t know.” Still there was no sound from the other end of the line. No sound. A sucking dry empty. “daddy..” The word was involuntary; rebellious. Tifny hadn’t called him up to offer sympathy -or to speak in tones of any past between them. But the unexpected -his not knowing; she’d never even contemplated he might not know. Had assumed even, that not only did he know -but that he had contrived to keep her ignorant of it.
“No. I didn’t know.”
“But you and Clare..”
“What?” And the sudden hostility in his voice shrunk Tifny to Tilford. “Clare and I what?”
“You were friends.”
“Long time ago. We moved. She moved. -You moved.” Here a pause. “People get on with their lives.” Some silence. Rustling -then a cough. “I hadn’t heard from her -maybe a card -letter or something on occasion. But we weren’t in touch.” Now the bed springs sigh down the line.
Tilford kept swallowing -nothing -but kept swallowing.
Thirty-six -and Tifny Grace had succumbed to a child of nine. She felt herself slipping deeper into Tilford -shrinking -shrunk; shrieking.
“Clare gone, huh. Clare. Well..”
Tilford heard his father’s voice; felt ghosts tug.
They lived half an hour from one another; they hadn’t spoken in fifteen years. Hadn’t seen each other in -more. But all the past collapsed into mere moments ago. Yesterday. Shearing Tilford of protection.
“She wasn’t even old..” Tilford’s voice sounded too different; too desperate for reassurance. “She wasn’t any more than -what?”
“Sixty-five, I think. Yeah..-yeah. I’m eight years older. Right. Sixty-five.”
But Tilford heard eight years older. His father was eight years older. And Clare was dead.
“When did she die?”
eight years older
“I don’t know. I got a package. Something she must have left for me. Someone sent it.”
Tilford felt the time beating away in his heart; felt -almost- the desire to... “Probably been a funeral.”
“..you didn’t know.” The wonder of it.
“No.” A sigh dredging deep. “Didn’t know.”
Tilford was lost. All animosity evaporated. A cat was licking his toes. His father was seventy-three. A greater blue of dawn was hovering over his head. He was tired.
“You well son?”
Cat rattled his purr; the black tea kettle began to take the morning; the sallow phosphorescence of city night bled into dawn. Tilford looked at his hands; vermilion nail varnish -chipping. A great spiral of black locks laid across the table. An empty shoe box, suppurating with ancient news. A life so far from home. “Yes.”
Tifny put the receiver back in its cradle.