When she had nothing else to do in the evenings, which was all too often, Evelyn watched Mr. Shutterbug and the Socialite.
She’d seen Mr. Shutterbug off and on the past two years she’d been living on 9th Street, but so occasionally that she’d first assumed he was the landlord, inspecting the apartment in the hopes that someone, someday would rent it. Only this summer, when Mr. Shutterbug had gotten his leg encased in a cast, did she realized he actually lived there.
So – he liked cameras. Traveled a lot. She wondered if he was a reporter or just a tourist.
Probably not a tourist. The men who’d lived through the war – they didn’t like to travel, not anymore. That was what Ted had explained to her back in Sioux Falls.
“I spent three years missing home so much I couldn’t stand it. As far as I’m concerned, we never have to leave again.”
“But – when we honeymoon, at least – I thought, Paris – ”
“I’ve already been to Paris, sweetie pie.”
Evelyn hadn’t ever been to Paris. Hadn’t ever even left South Dakota before. But that hadn’t mattered much to Ted. Other things that didn’t matter to Ted: Going to concerts, remembering her birthday, putting in enough time at the company to get a promotion that would have given them enough to live on, or ever setting a definite wedding date.
It was her own fault, her mother said. If she’d pushed more, or played a little harder to get, then Ted would have married her. Or if she’d broken up with him earlier, she might have found someone else in time to have children of her own. Instead, she found herself 35 years old, a Sioux Falls spinster. Her own fault.
Then Mom had her heart attack, and Evelyn had sold the house as fast as she could, cashed the insurance policy and moved to New York City. Better a Manhattan spinster than the Sioux Falls variety, she’d told herself. At least it would be a change.
Nobody had ever told her that a city of six million people could be so lonely.
Though Mr. Shutterbug didn’t seem to find it lonely, she noticed. Not now that the Socialite was on the scene. Even across the dingy courtyard, the Socialite glowed. She was younger than Mr. Shutterbug, Evelyn thought; from this distance, he looked handsome enough, but the Socialite – she was something else. Graceful. Elegant. Glamorous. In the light of his lamps, the Socialite’s blonde hair shimmered like a halo.
Evelyn had to believe life was easier for a girl like that than it was for her. Even when she’d been young, she’d been – well, “handsome” was the word her mother used, and not many people even used that. No figure to speak of, too much nose and not enough chin: Oh, she knew her faults by heart, like they were another poem she’d memorized, the saddest one of all.
Her friends had all told her how lucky she was to catch a guy like Ted. This had not been praise for Ted.
And yet, even the Socialite had problems. Clearly she adored Mr. Shutterbug. She visited him all the time, brought over waiters with picnic baskets and bottles of champagne, modeled her runway gowns for him, and sat in his lap to kiss him until it wasn’t decent to watch any more, and probably much longer than that.
Just as clearly, Mr. Shutterbug didn’t adore the Socialite in return. He sometimes acted annoyed when she visited; he was more enthusiastic when that older woman came by every day, his mother or whomever that was. When he spoke, the Socialite’s face often fell. Oh, he was always smiling, but apparently his little jokes weren’t always funny.
Imagine a rich, beautiful girl like that getting her heart broken by a regular Joe who lived in a walk-up. But the world, stingy in so many things, was generous with broken hearts.
Stop it, Evelyn told herself. You’re thinking positive these days, remember? She’d read a book of advice for the single woman, which had tons of good tips. Think positive. Listen to his opinions. Keep your dreams portable and your expectations modest. Practice being charming and pleasant.
Well, she’d practiced. She’d even thrown a little dress rehearsal “romantic dinner” by herself in the apartment, just like the book suggested, which had made her feel lonelier than anything else in her entire life. Some evening soon, she was determined to go out and put the book’s lessons into practice. And yet Evelyn still couldn’t believe she would ever find a man.
Men were all around her, of course. From Mr. Shutterbug across the way to that loudmouth Lars Thorwald upstairs – they were everywhere. Probably at least three million in Manhattan, if her math was correct.
But that was the problem with this city. You could see everyone and know no one.
Ross woke with a hangover. Again.
Bad habits, he scolded himself as he grabbed a tube of Alka-Seltzer. You’re out of gas before the day’s even begun. How are you gonna get through the party tonight?
And he remembered that, once upon a time, he looked forward to hosting parties with anticipation, not dread. That was because they used to be real parties, the kind with friends who all had fun being together. Some of Ross’ friends would be there tonight, sure – but they would be eclipsed by the professional contacts, the Broadway producers and music publishers and record execs he had to suck up to these days. There would be women, too – every single one of them a would-be singing star, every single one of them here to hustle. He couldn’t blame the gals for hustling; he was a hustler himself. You had to be, in this business. But it meant that none of those women would waste any time on him. Two years since his last hit, and then the show folding after the Boston tryout –
Facile, the critics said. Insincere. Cliched. No real substance, no true emotion.
Ross figured that was about right. How could he create music about real feelings while he was leading a life designed to keep real feelings out? His songs had been an expression of his soul; now his soul was being suffocated by his songs, or at least what it took to make a living with them. A vicious circle.
“You’d know about that, wouldn’t you, Lisa?” he said as he looked out the windows of his front room.
At that moment he couldn’t see Lisa, whose name he only knew because the guy who lived there had shouted it once when they were having a spat. She either didn’t stay nights with that guy or was too clever to let anybody catch her at it; Ross put his money on the latter. But he liked looking at that apartment and imagining her there.
As he stood there in his bathrobe, Alka-Seltzer fizzing comfortingly in his glass. Ross watched the guy receive his morning backrub from that older lady, his nurse or whoever. The guy looked pretty satisfied with himself. If you could start your day with a backrub, maybe you had a right to that look on your face.
But if you were throwing away a gorgeous gal like Lisa, throwing her away with both hands – maybe you shouldn’t be so satisfied with yourself.
Ross had a crush on the girl -- no more, no less. He'd always been a dreamer, and it was easy to dream up virtues to go with a lovely face. But he understood the difference between dreams and reality. Besides, she was out of his league, so far out that it was safe to admire her. Lisa might as well have been a bauble in Tiffany’s window.
That guy, though – the one who was actually in Lisa’s life, the one with the cast and the cameras – he knew her. He ought to be treating her right. Not sending her away each time with her pretty lips in a frown.
Pretty name. Soft. Easy to sing.
Didn’t get used in a lot of songs, unless you counted “Mona Lisa” – and that counted, he loved that one, and it was a big hit. A good sign, right?
Ross gulped down his Alka-Seltzer and sat at his piano. The first chord echoed in his head, too loudly – ahh, Christ, why did he have that fourth gin and tonic? – but he didn’t even care. The first bolt of inspiration he’d felt in a long time – that wasn’t something he intended to waste. That tune he’d been working on, the one that wasn’t quite coming together despite all the promise he sensed … well, it might just come together after all.
And maybe this time, he could cut through the crap and write something real.
He said his name was Dino. She wasn’t sure why she thought that might be a lie.
“You want to get out of here?” Dino had nice eyes and a nice smile, but they didn’t seem to go together somehow. Like he was smiling about something besides what he saw, or he was looking for something he wasn’t saying aloud.
“You mean, go to a club? For some music?” Evelyn smiled back. Smiling brightly was important, according to the book.
“Or your place. You live around here, you said. We could listen to some records. Sample some of that wine you said you had.”
She had mentioned the wine. She had mentioned her apartment being close by. She had worn an eye-catching color – emerald green, which had always looked good on her. The point of all this had been attracting a man, and she’d attracted one, so why did she feel like she wanted to run away from him as fast as possible?
Don’t be ridiculous, Evelyn told herself. Dino’s quite good-looking. He’s been friendly and personable. Why shouldn’t you have him back to your apartment?
He would, of course, only want One Thing, as her mother had so portentously warned. Well, Evelyn was no stranger to that One Thing. Before Ted shipped out to Europe, she’d told him farewell with all of herself, knowing he might never return; after that, when he came back, it had seemed nonsensical to deny him. She had been careful not to get in the family way – too careful, in her girlfriends’ opinion – but not so cautious that Evelyn hadn’t learned to enjoy herself. Really that was the only good thing about Ted.
And she and Ted had broken up quite a long while ago …
Dino’s too young for you. He’s too slick. There’s something a little wild about him, a little cruel.
But that was just her old-maid voice talking. Evelyn refused to accept old maidenhood just yet. “All right. I’m just across the street.”
Even by the time she’d turned the key in the lock, it all felt wrong. Dino wasn’t trying to make conversation any longer, and he’d become restless, his fingers jangling the keys and change in his pockets. When she ushered him in, he didn’t say nice place or what’s your rent, any of the usual things people would say. His dark eyes darted around the room, like a burglar “casing the joint.”
Wine. Wine would help. Evelyn had bolted a few stiff drinks before she ventured to the bar, but another wouldn’t go amiss. “Shall I pour you a glass of the Beaujolais?”
“Yeah, sure. Whatever.”
Evelyn took hold of the bottle, realizing only then that her hand was shaking.
Then Dino came up next to her and –
--the next few minutes were a blur to Evelyn, both when they were happening and forever after, when she tried to recall them. There was a kiss, too rushed, too hard, but one she tried to like. It had been so long for her. Maybe that was why it felt so wrong, why she returned the kiss so awkwardly. She tried to make a joke about putting on some records – to lighten the moment, slow things down – but then Dino changed. He backed her toward the sofa so fast she more fell than sat. His face was glazed by the alcohol they’d drunk; Evelyn’s head was buzzing too, but not so much that she couldn’t tell Dino hardly even saw her. She was a body he could have for a while. That was all.
Wasn’t that all right? Was Dino any more than that to her, really? Evelyn missed the feel of a man’s body next to hers – but not enough. Not enough to just lie back for some oaf who didn’t even care how he touched her.
Evelyn tried to tell him no. Dino didn’t stop. She pushed him away. He pushed her back down onto the couch and grabbed at the collar of her suit jacket; the green silk tore, and somehow that was the part that made her stop being scared. That was the part that made her angry.
Heart pounding, Evelyn shoved him away from her and slapped him, hard. “Get out! You get out of here this instant!”
Dino stared at her, breathing hard. It was like he hadn’t believed she didn’t want him until she’d struck him. “The hell is your problem, lady?”
“My problem is you. Get out before I call the cops.”
“So you went to a bar to pick up a guy and couldn’t handle it.” His young, callow face turned a smile into a snarl. “Or maybe you get off by leading guys on.”
She couldn’t hear this. Couldn’t face this. “I told you, get out!”
Dino laughed at her. “You’re scared. You’re a dried-up old virgin. You’ve been a virgin so long you can’t find anybody to make you. Well, it won’t be me.” He stalked out and slammed the door behind him.
Her fear peaked at the slam. Then it passed. And Evelyn’s knees gave out from under her.
The sobs seemed to rise from the pit of her belly, constricting her, choking her, blinding her. Evelyn heard the wailing sound she made as if from a distance – is that me? I didn’t know I could make a sound like that. She cried to empty herself out, on and on, long minutes stretching before her like the first step of an endless desolate journey. Like the rest of her life, which would be precisely the same as everything that had come before. Lonely. Forgotten. Neglected. The four walls of her apartment, the same grand Manhattan apartment that she’d thought was so fine when she was fresh off the bus from Sioux Falls, closed in on her like a cell on death row.
She didn’t calm down because she felt any less miserable; it was more as if Evelyn’s body was too exhausted to cry so hard any longer. A crippling numbness swept over her, and for a while she sat there, absent-mindedly wiping the mascara streaks from her cheeks, wondering how she would ever again find the strength or the will to move.
But surely she wouldn’t always feel like this. She just needed – a break. For something good to happen. Something that would remind her the world wasn’t merely misery after misery.
Then Evelyn heard the scream.
The music was swinging from his fingertips, everybody was laughing, booze flowed from his bar like a river, and Ross hated every second of it.
“Mona Lisa!” someone called out, and obediently he started playing the tune; a few people drunkenly began singing along. Even a song he loved had become just one more way to taunt him.
Would any of these people cross the street to help me if I were in trouble? Ross thought as he looked around the room at the party that surrounded him. The men’s laughter, the women’s lipstick and rouge, turned every face into a mask. Some of them probably would help him out; the trouble was, Ross hardly knew who they were amid the crowd.
And once again he had found himself playing someone else’s music instead of his own.
When someone put a martini atop the piano, Ross took it, drank it. Then he drank another. He’d have a hangover tomorrow to match the one he’d had today. Maybe the hangovers would become as much a part of his life as the songs. More, probably. He found himself thinking of an old-fashioned player piano, like the one his grandparents had kept in their parlor, with music on reels that looped back on themselves. You didn’t even have to touch the keys. The song would never change.
A hush fell over the party, so sudden it startled him. “What’s going on?”
“Some lady in the alley. She’s screaming.”
Ross hadn’t even heard it over the din. He rose and hurried out to the little strip of balcony he had and never used, a handful of guests beside him. The night was disgustingly hot and humid; the air was like a wet washcloth stuck to his skin. All around him, the windows were open, the lights on; neighbors he’d only seen as silhouettes against shades were faces now. Out of the corner of his eye he even glimpsed the mysterious Lisa in a gown of creamy silk, ethereal as a luna moth.
But he didn’t look at Lisa long. There was no taking his eyes away from the reason for the screaming: the dead dog next to the garden bed.
He’d noticed the dog before – hard not to, with it riding a basket up and down to its owners’ apartment every day. Ross had even joked that the dog was the only resident of Greenwich Village who had an elevator. The little furry thing had amused him whenever he'd seen it take its little journeys. But now it was dead.
Someone had killed it.
“Who’d strangle a pet dog?” one of the ladies at the party muttered.
A guy next to her said, “Lotta meanness in the world.”
Even as he spoke, though, a woman knelt by the dog. She wore deep emerald green that seemed to shine in the uncertain light. Her face was not beautiful, but the expression she wore as she looked down at the small dead thing – the compassion, the sorrow – made her more real to Ross than anyone else he’d seen in far too long.
Gently, almost tenderly, the woman in green picked up the dog, which lay limp in her hands. The weeping owners had lowered the basket for it, for the very last time; she settled it in as if she were putting a child to sleep, her long pale fingers even stroking the dog’s hair.
The basket began to rise, as the sobbing woman on her fire escape cried out, “Which one of you did it? Which one of you killed my dog? You don't know the meaning of the word 'neighbor.' Neighbors like each other, speak to each other, care if anybody lives or dies, but none of you do. But I couldn't imagine any of you bein' so low that you'd kill a little helpless, friendly dog - the only thing in this whole neighborhood who liked anybody. Did ya kill him because he liked ya? Just because he liked ya?”
As the couple reclaimed their dog’s body from its basket to hold it close, and the woman’s shouts dissolved into sobs, there was a long, silent moment. Everyone in the courtyard was regarding each other – with shared guilt, not for the dog’s death (though one person here had to be responsible), but for the fact that this was the first time most of them had seen each other’s faces.
I complain about the world not feeling real, Ross thought. But I don’t even turn around and see the reality right next door. Gawping at Lisa didn’t count.
Then lights began to go out; shades were drawn. The murmur of his cocktail party rose again around him. Whatever moment had just brought Ross out of his doldrums had faded.
But the feeling within – the vividness of what had just happened, the shattering of the everyday, and above all the kindness of the woman in green – that didn’t fade. It rose within him, found its own strength, its own life.
And music he’d struggled with for weeks suddenly seemed to come together.
Let the others laugh; let the party burble on around him. Ross was alone with the song in his mind, and yet less lonely than he’d been in a very long time.
It had come to her when she’d held the dead dog in her hands.
Had his name been – Frisky? Biscuit? Something like that. She’d heard the neighbors call him. Never bothered to listen, though.
And Evelyn had realized that if she was so isolated that she couldn’t even notice a little dog until it was killed – if she’d been so stupid as not to even look up while its neck was snapped 15 feet from her own back door – there was really no hope.
She’d be this alone forever.
She couldn’t stand being this alone.
The only power left to her was the power to decide just how long “forever” was going to be.
One of the girls who worked with her in the alterations room at Mainbocher had given her the name of a doctor who “wasn’t fussy” about prescriptions. Naturally she’d assumed that Evelyn just needed some Valium; these days, who didn’t? Luckily, the doctor proved to be just as unfussy as advertised.
Which was how she ended up with a whole bottle of red pills that came with a warning that only six or seven of them would be enough to kill her.
Best to swallow them all, Evelyn thought with as much resolve as she could muster with sweaty palms and a stomach that kept twisting within her gut. No half-measures. No winding up like the Ousley boy down the road back in Sioux Falls, who came home from the war having survived a head wound in body only – drooling, insensible and nothing but a burden.
She didn’t even have anybody left to burden, really.
So Evelyn shook the pills out onto her living room table, just next to the sofa. This was where she’d grappled with Dino. She imagined the room still smelled like whisky and pomade. To think that had been her last kiss.
Her bathrobe seemed the appropriate thing to wear. It would be like going to sleep, maybe. She hoped so. Washing the pills down with a couple of stiff drinks would help with that.
But as she looked down at the red capsules gleaming on the table, Evelyn knew she wasn’t ready quite yet.
Well, she’d just have to get ready. She’d … write a note. Of course. You were supposed to write a note.
Her stationery was in her writing desk. Evelyn crossed the room to sit there, suddenly deeply conscious that this, too, was the last time. Everything she did from now on was the last time. She’d sat at this desk trying to write poetry – bad poetry most of the time, Evelyn knew, though she had her moments. She’d read books here. Only a few days ago she’d finished that lovely long James Michener novel about Japan – what was the title again?
She took up her pen, tempted to write that one word, nothing else. But surely there was more to say?
Who, after all, was she saying something to?
Millie back in Sioux Falls. They’d always been such pals, and Millie still wrote every single week – good letters, too, not smug lists of things she’d done with her husband and four children, but stories so real it made Evelyn feel like she’d been there herself. Millie had a way with words. Evelyn hadn’t seen her in years now, and yet her face and voice remained as clear as anything.
And Conway at Mainbocher. The lone man who worked in alterations – so handsome and so witty. Shame he was, well, a “confirmed bachelor.” But they would go to the pictures together sometimes on a Saturday, and the whole time he would whisper fake lines of dialogue between the real ones, so screamingly funny that sometimes she had to hold her hand over her mouth to keep from ruining the show for everyone else.
They’d talked about going to see “The Caine Mutiny” next week.
Evelyn’s resolve wavered. It would be so easy to scoop the pills back in the bottle and go on – at least for a while, she could see, she had the pills now whenever she needed them, and that gave her the power –
Slowly she glanced over her shoulder, back at the pills. They gleamed brilliant red on the table next to the sofa, just where Dino had pushed her down.
That was when memory crashed over her. Drowned her. Once again she could see his contemptuous face, could feel his hands dirtying her – turning even the remembrance of sex ugly. Her gut clenched, painfully; Evelyn had hardly been able to eat since the night of the attack. And once again she felt unclean, even though she’d showered at least three times a day since then.
If going on meant remembering that night with Dino every day of her life, then she couldn’t. She just couldn’t.
On the paper, she scrawled, “Sayonara.” It would have to do.
Then Evelyn walked back to the sofa. Maybe it was right that it should end here, right where it happened. She took the glass of water in her hand; the booze could follow after.
Once again her traitorous mind whispered, the last time. The last time. This was the last time she’d see her little apartment, drink a glass of water, hear the music coming from the garden out back –
--and oh, such music.
Evelyn’s fingers remained curled around the glass, holding it halfway to her lips, as she listened. Her other hand cupped the pills but didn’t move. It seemed she’d heard this tune before – a version of it, anyway, as the piano-playing man in the high corner apartment worked on it. But now he had a band with him, and the melody that had floated down in bits and pieces was now whole. Complete.
The music pierced her misery in a way nothing else had been able to do. Evelyn realized she could breathe again without it feeling as though she would sob. That her skin no longer crawled with the memory of Dino’s hands; it was again her own. Her room might have been in black and white before, but now color flowed into her along with the music – the dusky blue of the courtyard beyond, the aquamarine of her robe.
Slowly she felt herself lower the pills and the glass back onto the table. It felt as if some other force were doing that, not as though she willed it. But Evelyn chose to rise from the sofa where she’d sat down to die. She walked to the window and looked up at the golden rectangle of light coming from the songwriter’s studio. There a handful of men worked together, playing their instruments, an unwitting Orpheus quartet.
If going on meant hearing this song again – if it meant going to movies with Conway and writing Millie back more often – if it meant that she had any chances for happiness, however fleeting – then she could do it.
Evelyn took a deep breath, let it out, did it again.
“That’s it,” Ross said, grinning. “I think we’re getting there.”
The rest of the band took five and helped themselves to his bar; Ross didn’t bother having anything. He was too busy making notations on the sheet music. A little slower on the bridge, perhaps – ?
As for the lyrics – well. They would do. Lyrics always took him longer to write, and from the moment Donnie had heard this tune, he’d been agitating to get it out. If everything went according to schedule, they’d press a demo at the start of next week. That meant going with the words he had, exactly one of which he liked: the title, “Lisa.”
But he had a feeling that the next chance he had to work on some lyrics, they were going to flow a lot better.
“So who’s Lisa?” asked Barney, who played bass and took his scotch neat.
“The girlfriend of the lucky dog who lives over that way.” Ross used his pencil to point; he didn’t have to look. Didn't really want to as much any longer. He seemed to have misplaced his crush. “Blonde, glamorous – you know the one. I showed you at the party. The gal in the lingerie?”
Barney frowned. “That’s her apartment?”
“Her boyfriend’s. You don’t remember?”
“Well, if her boyfriend lives in that one, what’s she doing over there?” Barney gestured at the far side of the courtyard, then hesitated. “Shit. Looks like she’s getting arrested.”
What the hell?
Ross – along with every other guy in the apartment – rushed to the window. Sure enough, just like Barney had said, Lisa was in somebody else’s apartment, apparently some big guy with white hair whom Ross had never noticed before. So were the cops. And they sure enough looked like they were about to take her in. For what?
Also, weirdly, she kept gesturing at her hand – not for the cops, but at the window itself. Like Ross was her audience.
No, that was foolish. He looked back at her boyfriend’s apartment and saw him, still in his wheelchair, staring at the whole thing through binoculars. The older lady was there too. What in the world was going on? He’d figured Lisa for a model or a debutante or something like that – not a cat burglar. But how much could you know about someone through their apartment window?
After some discussion, the band agreed it had to be some kind of stunt. Barney said, “He’s a photographer, right?”
“I think so. He’s got a lot of cameras, anyway.”
“So he’s set something up. Some kind of exposé on the police.”
“Arresting his girlfriend?”
“You got a better explanation?”
Ross didn’t. At any rate, the excitement seemed to be over. The cops were leading Lisa away, and even the photographer had turned his lights out. “All right, already. Let’s get back to work.”
“Say, about the end – have you considered – ”
They got to talking, experimenting, working with the song, and it was all like it used to be. Ross had remembered that sometimes it would be this way – the music flowing easily, singing to him, through him – but it had been so long since it had happened that it had started to feel like a fairy tale he’d heard once. Now it was his reality again.
And already the next songs were starting to well up inside. Some were happy, some mournful, but all of them memorable and true – and all of them, somehow, rose from the moment he’d watched that woman in green.
Then someone screamed. A man.
“What is it this time?” Barney said, as Ross turned to see what it was. Damned if it wasn’t the photographer guy – and was that the fellow from across the street in his apartment – trying to kill him?
“Lisa!” the photographer yelped. “Doyle!”
Sure enough, the heavyset guy was dragging the photographer to the window, trying to dump him out. “We gotta do something!” Ross said.
“What are we supposed to do?” said someone else, and Ross didn’t know. But it was weird to go from thinking all those windows were merely picture frames to realizing that they were his neighbors – real live people who could be in danger, in trouble – and holy hell, the photog had just gone through the window; he was hanging on by his fingertips now –
The cops finally came running, but just as they reached for the photographer and Ross sighed in relief – the guy fell. He just fell. Ross’ gut clenched hard, and everyone in the band gasped.
But there were more cops underneath him. The guy tumbled right to the sidewalk but – they caught him, or not exactly, but broke the fall. Immediately there was a crowd down there, but the photographer was moving and talking, so he must not have been in such bad shape.
After that, everything was crazy for a little while. Sirens everywhere, and all the neighbors running out onto their fire escapes or out in the courtyard to figure out what was going on. Ross went to the courtyard; there he actually got to talk to the older lady he’d seen giving massages – she turned out to be a nurse named Stella, a feisty broad. He liked her, and she had the facts.
The long and the short of it – as he explained later to a group gathered by the garden – was that the heavyset guy, a “Lars Thorwald,” had murdered his wife. Murdered her, right in his apartment, the one they could all either see or hear, and nobody had noticed a thing … nobody, that was, except the photographer. So he and Lisa had been working together to bring this guy to police attention. Now Thorwald was in jail, but the photographer was likely to spend a while in traction.
“Well, I never,” said Polly, a dancer who lived across the way. “A murderer right next door! Gives me chills just thinking about it.”
“I can imagine that you never heard anything,” said Helga, a sculptor who lived in one of the garden level apartments. “What with your music and all.”
Oblivious to Helga’s arch tone, Polly nodded, “Yeah, it helps.”
“Poor Biscuit,” said Margaret, who had owned the dead dog. “To think he was digging up Mrs. Thorwald! Gives me the shivers.”
“They never seemed like such bad folks,” said her husband, Lloyd. “Argued a lot, but in a heat wave like this, you know. Tempers get out of control.”
“They did for Lars Thorwald, anyway.” Ross used his handkerchief to mop his sweaty brow. “Guy must’ve lost it.”
“That’s no excuse,” Helga said.
“No argument there.” He held up his hands. “A murder right here in the Village. Makes you think.”
Everyone agreed that it did, and they began to drift into smaller groups – not away from each other, but to talk one on one. Funny how they’d all lived near one another for years now, but after tonight, they’d all know each other’s names, say hello when they met in the grocery, maybe chit-chat in the courtyard once in a while. It was kind of nice, really.
Just as Ross was about to head back upstairs, a hand rested on his forearm. “Excuse me.”
He turned to see her – the woman in green. Well, she wasn’t in green now; the bathrobe she wore was a soft aqua. But there was no mistaking her. When he’d looked at her from far above, Ross had written her off as no beauty, but … she had a quality. The gentleness he’d sensed before, and sadness too, but underneath it all hope: He felt like he’d been waiting too long to see someone lit up with hope. And her eyes – oh, there were songs to be written about those eyes.
“You’re the songwriter, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. We haven’t been too loud up there, have we?”
“Oh, no! Not at all. I was just going to say – your music – it’s beautiful. Maybe more beautiful than you realize. And I’m very glad I heard it this evening.”
Ross hesitated – but what the hell. Tonight was a night for the truth to come out. “Well, I’m glad you heard it. I wouldn’t have written it but for you.”
She stared at him, like she could barely believe what he’d said.
He held out his hand. “Ross Cameron.”
“Evelyn Atwood.” She accepted the handshake, and he knew he would always remember this, the moment they first touched.
Maybe it had only been the heat wave after all.
Autumn had arrived early this year, and yet the cool air seemed to bring a fresh, lively spirit more like spring. The golden and scarlet leaves promised something new on the horizon. Evelyn could hardly believe, now, that she’d seriously contemplated not being around to see them.
She’d shaken off her torpor and made a few changes. Now she saved her pennies to go out to lunch with the girls at work more often, took them up on their invitations to go to parties or exhibits even when those didn’t always sound so interesting to her; it was surprising how often they turned out to be fun anyway, and Evelyn knew it did her good to get out of the house. She had kept up her new acquaintance with her neighbors, especially Helga, who was tremendously intellectual and intimidating, but kind-hearted too. And Evelyn had put that “personal improvement” book in the trash where it belonged.
As for her dark night of the soul – well, she’d told exactly two people about it, Millie and Conway. Millie had called her – long distance and everything! – to have a long chat, and even after Evelyn had calmed her down, she now wrote twice a week. Evelyn always made sure to write back, and she’d started taking photographs of any little thing so she could throw them in the envelope too. Conway had told her of a long-ago night when he had thought of the same thing, and they’d both cried into their cocktails together. Now the two of them, sometimes with his “roommate” Alan, met up far more often.
Two good friends might not seem like a big number, but Evelyn had come to realize they were a blessing.
And now, to her astonishment, there was Ross.
Though this was the first time she’d ever come to his apartment, she realized she didn’t feel a bit awkward. “Maybe it’s because I’ve glanced up at it so often,” she teased him gently. “It’s like a room of my own house that I just never walked into before.”
Ross grinned at her as he took the new record from its sleeve – no, the “demo.” She had to learn music-industry lingo now. “I’m glad you feel welcome. I hope you always will.”
And now she’d actually hear it – the finished version of the song. As the needle came down on the demo, she said, “I can’t tell you what this music has meant to me.”
“I can’t tell you how good it feels to be inspired again.” Ross glanced down, as if he were the shy one. “The lyrics – they’re not the best. About daydreams instead of reality. I’d do them differently if I had to do them again.”
“This is just a demo, right?” That had come easily off her tongue. Maybe she was getting the knack of this music-industry thing. “So you could change them still.”
Shrugging, he said, “No point, really. I couldn’t change them to say what I really want to say.”
“Well, ‘Lisa’ has two syllables. ‘Evelyn’ has three. That’s a whole rewrite, right there.” He smiled at her gently. “Guess I’ll have to write another song. Looking at you now – I think I can hear it already.”
Goodness. They could hardly meet each other’s eyes, but Evelyn knew Ross was smiling just as broadly as she was.
As the song soared into the courtyard, Evelyn’s gaze fluttered over the Socialite, who was lounging in Mr. Shutterbug’s apartment, reading. She wasn’t dressed like a glamour gal today: just jeans and loafers and a pink shirt.
Come to think of it, the Socialite had seemed far more at ease lately – ever since that terrifying night when Mr. Thorwald upstairs had been arrested for murder. Mr. Shutterbug had nearly gotten himself killed too, but now he was back in his apartment with two plaster casts instead of one. These days he seemed grateful for the Socialite’s attention. He grinned whenever he laid eyes on her. Apparently getting shoved out a second-story window had provided a bit of perspective for him.
At any rate, neither she nor the Socialite had broken hearts any longer.
Just as Evelyn was about to turn back to Ross, the Socialite glanced up from her magazine; they caught each other’s eyes. Evelyn was embarrassed to have been caught staring, but the Socialite just grinned, as if this were a shared joke. At the same moment, they each lifted their hands. Funny, how neighborly it all felt, once you said hello – once you shared something as simple as a wave.