Pretty Lady: I Can’t Figure You Out

By Selma Ortiz

          Your green polka dot rain boots stuck out in the dull grey train station. You looked like someone I ought to have a conversation with. I sat closer to you and noticed your bright yellow leggings poking out of your boots. What an interesting color scheme-not what I would’ve gone with but interesting nonetheless. A girl like you must have many suitors. The way you happily hummed as you pulled out a big ball of blue yarn surrounded by unforgiving smells and street noise- we must’ve been seeing two different worlds.

          I mustered the courage and tapped your shoulder, draped in red fuzzy cloth. 

          “What you working on?” I asked, half expecting you to not acknowledge me. 

          “I’m not sure. I like to figure it out as I go.”

          “Oh, I see. Well, what have you made so far?”

          “Hmm, a couple hats, lots of blankets, and many many scraps of yarn,” you laughed. 

          “Well, that’s more than me! I’m Tom.”

          Your hand was surprisingly cold. 

          “I’m Celine, nice to meet you, Tom.”

          Your voice was soothing like milk and honey. I kept asking questions just to hear the way you pronounced each word so tough and silky, like expensive linens. 

          “So how long you been in New York?”

          “A looong time,” you said. “I know the city like the back of my hand.”

          “Once again you’ve got me beat, ma’am. I moved here not too long ago. Been eating at the same restaurant every day for the past year.”

          “What street do you live on?”

          “Arther Avenue.”

          You covered your mouth and yelled, “Benny’s!” 

          “Jesus, how’d you know?”

          “I told you, I know my onions! Benny’s is alright but every day? No, no, no. I’ll show you some real food- You got any plans tonight?”

          “Let me check.” I pulled out my leather-padded notebook.

          You closed the cover before I could even fully open it-

          “Cancel ‘em.” 

          We smiled the same mischievous smile as if we were children. I wondered how anyone could take their eyes off of a gal like you. 

          The train came to stop as the operator called it out with his horn.

          “Well”, “here’s where I get off,” you said.

          You put the ball of yarn back in your bag and began to stand.

          “How will I meet you?”

          “Benny’s. 7’o clock.”

          Rushing home, I went through piles of clothes looking for something to impress you. Today, I hated my brown and black garments- someone like you deserved something colorful. I scavenged for an old pink blouse and grey sweater vest. I gelled my hair a preposterous amount, prompting many showers that left my hair a curly mess. I wondered if you were having as much trouble as I was.

* * *

          The way my morning started, baby, I thought it’d be another long day. Business was slow at the cafe, I ran out of canned tuna for Cocoa, and to top it off Noel dropped a tub of water from the third floor onto my dry laundry. I frustratedly put on whatever dry clothes I had, and left for the store. I had about 20 minutes left until I needed to be back, and all the trains were running late. I went back into the nearest store and bought some yarn and needles hoping what my mom said about knitting was true- “It changes your life, Celine! I haven’t felt stressed in months.”  

          When I first saw you on the train; I know I must’ve looked silly and to be quite honest I thought you were just another drugstore cowboy, how you came up to me in your fancy suit. I had a terrible morning, but for some reason, the sun shined as if it were heaven on earth. I liked chatting with you, though. You gave me some hope for the rest of my day. 

          Getting home I took a nice, calm bath and watched the town with my robe and pipe. I hadn’t gone out in weeks. Work was busy but I’d spent my free time planning outfits if I ever was to go out, so I knew just what to wear. 

* * *

          I’d spent so much time worrying I forgot how late it was getting. I grabbed my satchel and rushed out the door. Before I even fully got to the restaurant, I saw you standing there, in a long, black, sequin dress with dark plum lipstick and your hair perfectly coiled on top of your head. You looked completely different from what I expected. You were poised and elegant, beautiful and mature-the cat’s meow. 

          “If you planned on being late I’d at least expect a better outfit,” you yelled out.

          “To be fair, girl, you didn’t tell me what we were doing.” 

          “Well to be fair, boy, I still don’t know what we’re doing.”

          I held my arm out “Well then, I guess we’ll just figure it out as we go.”

          We walked through the bright streets of New York, stopping to hear the musicians on each corner-  getting to know each other surrounded by a bluesy ambiance. You led me through a dark alleyway and stopped in front of a purple door chipping paint on the floor. 

          “Should I be worried?” 

          “Don’t be such a bluenose.” You swung open the door- “ What you’ve got here is the finest speakeasy in all of New York. I don’t show this to just anyone.”

          I stepped inside and was immediately overwhelmed by the smell of gin and cigarettes. The velvet chairs perfectly matched the flaming youth that sat on them. 

          “Come on.” 

          You led me through clinking glass and drunken conversations towards the back of the bar. You opened a door labeled “dressing room”. 

          “What are you doing, girl?” 

          “Go sit at one of the tables by the stage. I’ll be right back.” 

          I did as I was told. I bought myself a drink and sat directly facing the stage. After 10 minutes of waiting, I was gonna go check on you when a man got on stage and said, “Ladies and gentlemen you know her, you love her please welcome our beloved Celine!” 

          The previously chaotic conversations turned into unanimous cheers and applause. Your black heels clicked as you stepped into the spotlight. I was amazed. The band behind you started to play and you grabbed the microphone like it was an old friend. God, what I would give to hear your voice again.

          The subtle raspiness, with sweet undertones. You held each note so strong and firm and the whole crowd was under your spell. I melted as you sang, “I will always adore you.” You swayed back and forth to the music and it felt like a part of you. I barely met you today and I was already thinking of when I’d get to see you next. But my hopes would be cut short.

          “Did you like my performance?”

          “Like it? Celine, that was the bee’s knees!”

          “Why thank you, Tom.”

          We spent the rest of the night laughing and drinking in the dim lighting and comfy furniture. 

                    …I never went a day without you on my mind, Celine.

          Life went by as usual the next two years without you. I went to the club every night hoping the announcer would call out your name and you’d walk out, but you never did. But one day at the train station-

* *

          That night, baby, was the best I’ve had. But you scared me. I could tell you wanted to see me again and I didn’t want to go through another heartbreak. So I left. But two years went by and I still thought about you, a random stranger. I moved back to New York and before I could scare myself away again. I bought a train ticket hoping you’d be there. And you were. 


          “Hi, Tom.” 

          “Where’d you go?”

          “New Jersey.”

          “New Jersey? Jesus! Why?”

          “How about I tell you about it tonight?”

          “Benny’s?” I asked.

          “7’ o’clock.

Lorelei Nicholls’ Light on a Stormy Day.