Paper Moon

Julia Klatt Singer

 

From the stairway Lulu could hear the noise of the party, a floor above.  The steady beat of a bass guitar, a melody she couldn’t quite place, but knew she had heard it before, maybe in a dream—that kind of song, one that plays itself over and over until it becomes the rhythm of the dream, the reason she was having it.  Above the beat was the din of voices, the occasional peel of women’s laughter. 

     The young couple in front of her were dressed in gold and blue.  They looked smart together, each line of their clothing cut perfectly.  They were probably in their early thirties, young enough for her to wear the gold a-line dress and strappy heels, old enough for him to be wearing the same shade of gold pants, and a rich blue oxford shirt.  They were tan and lovely, their skin glowed.  Being in her forties, Lulu wrote it off as love.  They both looked lit and she remembered the feeling, the heat of bodies in love.

     The stairway was long and narrow, like a chute--she was glad she wasn’t wearing the heels the golden girl was--coming down them later, could be difficult.  As if on cue, the girl stopped, and adjusted her ankle strap.  Golden boy turned and smiled at her, now a step or two away.  He was holding a tray of the most beautiful canapés.  And the look on her face must have shown her surprise.

     “Would you like one?”  He asked, moving the tray above his girlfriend who was still bent over, tightening her buckle. 

     “Oh, no thank you.  But they are beautiful.  I wouldn’t want to ruin their presentation by taking one now.”

     “Really, take one,” He moved the tray closer.

     “No no I couldn’t eat one…”

     “Of course you couldn’t eat one,” he said with a chuckle.  The tray was withdrawn and the girl stood up and checked her hair. 

     They continued up the steps and she heard him say to the girl, “she wanted to eat one.  Imagine that…well they do look good enough to eat…”

 

     She watched them disappear into the darkened room at the top of the steps.  Thought of them now as paper dolls.  Pretty to look at and not much else.  She hated this moment most of all.  Lulu knew she was not a woman made for adventure, that entering a party, walking into a room she had never been in before was about as daring as she got.  She rarely kissed on a first date, never touched meat that was slightly pink, wore sensible heels and sunscreen.  Her co-worker Sandra would be here, maybe, but she wasn’t a great comfort. Sandra was known for her high heels and mini skirts, and Lulu has discovered, quite by accident, that Sandra kept a pair of thong panties (thin as tissue paper) in her top drawer, next to her paper clips and stapler. 

     Lulu paused on the top step and adjusted her skirt. 

     In her dreams, this was a moment she replayed again and again.  She felt all the air leave the room, felt glances and dismissals, felt panic rising that she knew she must push down or she’d turn and run from the room.  In her dreams she did turn and run.  And then she had to enter the room again, repeat the horror all over again.

     She stepped through the door and was amazed by what she saw.  The room was dimly lit but she could see everything perfectly.  Crimson couches, with gentle curving arms lined the brick walls.  The chandeliers hung at varying heights, each with eight ivory candles and perfect oval orange flames.  The tables were simple brown rectangles and loaded with the most beautiful displays of food.  Sushi and olives, sliced meats she could not name but loved the look of.  The canapés, baskets of breads, cheeses in perfect wedges, little cakes and almonds.

     The windows were amazing.  Floor to ceiling, succulent red pleated drapes hung at their sides, and the city skyline glowed like embers beyond the glass.  She marveled over the shapes of the buildings.  Was amazed at how stunning the city looked from above.  She wondered why she had never looked up before, never noticed how handsome this city was.  Made of perfect angles, repeating patterns, geometric and vertical.

     “Gorgeous, isn’t it?”  He said at her side. 

     “Yes.” Lulu didn’t know what he was looking at, but it all was.  She wanted to turn and look at him, see who he was—his voice was low and solid, a calm voice, one of a professor, or radio announcer—someone who knew how to use words and how to speak.

     “And to think someone made this, made each and every piece.”

     “Except the flowers--those made themselves,” she turned and smiled at him.  She searched the room for each and every flower, for it was jammed packed with them.  Huge bouquets stood at the end of each couch, tables disappeared under the weight of them. 

     “What do you mean?”  He said as he looked around.  “Someone made them too.  I brought the olives.”  He pointed to a platter heaping with black and green and mottled olives.  “I loved stuffing the green ones,” he said.

     She spotted the green olives with the red centers.  They looked lovely.  And she told him so.  “But of course flowers make themselves.  Yes, someone plants them and waters them and makes sure they have enough light and then cuts them and arranges them.  Yes, people make the arrangements, but the flowers…”

     “Someone made them too.”  He gave her a stern look, like he wasn’t sure about her after all, like she might just be a child who needed some sense. “What did you bring?  What did you make?”

     She blushed.  She had been invited to the party by Sandra, who she had worked with for years, but had never felt all that close too.  Sandra wasn’t approachable—not if you were a woman—although Lulu has the sense that men never got that close to her either.  And the few times they had gotten close, Lulu had come away feeling like she’d gotten a paper cut. 

     Truth was, she hadn’t thought to bring anything.  She was usually quite good, and would bring a bottle of wine or bouquet of flowers.  She searched the room for Sandra, not that she really wanted to see her, not now.

     “I didn’t bring or make anything…”

     “Oh, I’m sorry.  That was rude of me.”  He offered her his hand. “Emerson Reed—but my friends call me M.”

     “That’s a bookish name,” she took it and shook it, surprised at its smoothness.  “Lulu Martin.  My friends call me Bird.”

     “and yours has a bit of life to it, doesn’t it.  A bit of spring.  I shall call you Lulubird.”

 

     “Drink?”  she asked him.

     “Good one,” he said and laughed.  “Let’s check out that view from the couch over there.  Perspective is everything you know.  Some things look better from a distance.  And some things, you have to take a closer look at…some things you have to read between the lines…”

     She followed him through the crowd.  Something wasn’t quite right.  It was packed, yet she couldn’t feel the heat bodies make in a tight space.  And everyone was perfect.  She had never seen so many people with such straight lines, such perfect curves and angles. Lula checked her skirt.  She could feel it twisting.  She felt soft and solid, too solid for this party.

     He sat down, folded his leg across the other.  She liked angular men.  Like to follow the lines their bodies made.

     “Let me see,” he said.  “You seem like a Dylan, no a Dickinson, sort of woman.”

     “I like them both,” she said.  “Again that odd sensation.  She could feel her own body heat, but everything else was cool.

     “Hmmm…I know I have something somewhere, buried inside me.  She watched as he closed his eyes.  He had no lines, nothing that revealed age.  His skin was perfect.  “Yes, he said.  “Here it is.”

 

           Wild nights, wild night

           Were I with thee

           Wild nights should be

           our luxury!

 

           Futile the winds

           To a heart in port,--

           Done with the compass,

           Done with the chart.

 

           Rowing in Eden!

           Ah! The sea!

           Might I but moor

           To-night in thee!

 

     As he recited the Dickinson poem to her, she had this overwhelming desire to light a cigarette. Strike a match.  It made her blush.  The whole smoke a cigarette after sex thing.  Did poetry turn her on?  She was afraid it did.

     “Do you have a cigarette?”  she asked when he finished.  “I’m feeling this desire to smoke…”

     “Dickinson does that to me too,” he said.  “But smoking for me would be fatal.”

     “Oh come on.  One cigarette couldn’t hurt.”  She leaned against him.  It was like leaning against a bookshelf.

     “Do you not see what would happen to me if I smoked?”

 

     It always went this way.  Meet a good-looking man, find him interesting, charming even and then find out he’s got some strange views of the world—she hated the prohibitionists the most.  Truly, everything to an extreme could kill you—or someone else—but really, was it so hard to keep things in balance, and interesting, lively?

     In the background she could hear Paper Moon.  She knew that wasn’t the title, but she remembered the words,

 

           Say it's only a paper moon
           Sailing over a cardboard sea
           But, it wouldn't be make-believe…

 

 

     “What do think of books?”  He asked.  Smiling at her.

     “Books?  I love them.  Never met one I wanted to burn.” 

     “Good.”  He said.  I think we’re going to be friends.”

     “Oh, but there are lots of books out there.  We might not like the same ones at all.”  She watched as men in black suits carried trays of food and drink through the room.  She was wishing she’d grabbed a drink when she had a chance.

     “Well, let’s see.  Dickinson, Hemingway, of course Shakespeare—my ankles have a little Li Po—in the original Chinese.  My backbone though is Dickens.  Pretty ordinary stuff.  I know.  I’m kind of a classic man.”

     “It is good to be well read,” she felt the arm of the chair and wondered what it was made out of.  It felt like glossy and smooth.  “My friends say I read too much.  Chose books over real people.”

     “I knew we were going to hit it off.”  He gazed at her.  “I just knew it.  I think you’ll find me to be the perfect man.  I love to spend weekends in bed.  And if you were reading me…”

     Lulu didn’t know what to say.  She was usually pretty good with a quick, witty retort.  She was a good flirt—shockingly, being booky helped.  She had all sort of quotes in her head, good lines that men who weren’t well read never knew she had stolen.  But then, as soon as she realized they didn’t know it wasn’t her words, she lost interest in them. 

 

           Yes it's only a canvas sky
           Hanging over a muslin tree
           But it wouldn't be make-believe if you believed in me


 

     “Look,” he said.  “You’re single, lively and attractive.  I’m single, a bookish man, solidly bound.  It’s worth a try.  I can’t promise you anything but words and my love.  That is all I have to give.  And frankly darling, I’m easy to get along with.  I don’t shed.  I don’t snore.  Just no making love in front of the fire.  All it would take is one little spark and I’m a goner.  And if you’re going to smoke you just can’t smoke around me.”

     Lulu laughed.  “Hmmm.  How do you feel about passion?  About desire?  About that kind of fire?”

     “Darling, when we get to my place, I can show you desire.  I’ve got some unedited pages from Payton Place—author’s notes—well, let’s just say, in a part of me you’ll like to get a read on.”

 

     Lulu chuckled.  M was a funny funny man.  So intent.  So earnest and yet so open, like a book, with her.  She wished she could feel some heat from his body.  She liked that about men.  Liked that about meeting them and being near them.  She wondered if they noticed her heat, or if it was a mass issue.  Men, typically, being larger than she was, must naturally give off more heat.  But M gave off no heat.  All she could smell was that lovely smell of ink and paper—that first day of school smell. 

     So when he leaned in and kissed her, she was startled by the gloss of his lips, startled by the gentle weight of his hand as he slid it along her thigh.  The same sensation as having a book in her lap.  She loved his kiss.  Kissed him harder.  Found his tongue with hers.  It felt oddly dry, but lovely none-the-less.

     “Let’s go,” she said.  Let’s go to your place.”

     M smiled at her, said, “you took the words right off my tongue.”