SRO

byLargoKitt©

***

When you pass a theater in New York,
late on a warm summer night, you see
the audience spill from the lobby
blinking like animals fresh from
hibernation, unfamiliar with this
world, still living in a dream.

***

Mandy said she needed to get out. The apartment walls were closing in, she said, like that scene in the Pit and the Pendulum. She said that the baby, heavy in her belly, made her feel like a lumpy sandbag.

It was fine with me. Usually she didn't like to go out that much, that summer in New York. She said she felt so obvious, like a spotlight was following her around. It wasn't ugly that she felt, exactly, more like 'domesticated.' That was the word she kept using and I knew she felt like she had lost something.

She never felt wild. She never felt free.

"Parenthood just doesn't fit this place. It just isn't built for mommies and carriages and fuzzy animals. We have to get out."

We wanted to get out, but it didn't work. Neither of us had job prospects anywhere else. We also were reverse snobs. The idea of some little colonial in Connecticut or New Jersey was close to obscene, even immoral.

"Let's get out of here," she had said, and I thought she was beginning to make the case again for leaving the city. But she was up and reaching for her carpetbag purse.

"I'm going to freak in a minute. Come on. Let's move."

She was pulling on her cape.

"Where are we going?"

I wanted to know if I should dress up any. I didn't like to be the Raggedy Man even if we were just going to some medium nice falafel place in the Village. I knew it didn't matter. People wore cutoffs and torn T-shirts to Studio 54. Mandy said that when I did dress up I looked like an out-of-towner, a bright beacon for a mugger or pickpocket. But shabby made me feel small. I put on my college jacket with the leather sleeves and that made the difference. We went.

Usually we preferred the Village for "going walkabout" even though it meant killing our ears on the Number Two from the Upper West Side. But Mandy shuddered at the idea of the subway, so we just walked. We aimed for the dancing fountain in Lincoln Center. I was worried about her doing all that walking, but she blew it off.

"Exercise is good!" She shouted, skipping and twirling around the fountain, her hands carving neat arcs through the evening, her belly a graceful counterweight. I don't think she cared if she broke her water. Maybe she wanted it. Impudently she plopped her "fat feet" in the lighted fountain and made a trail of footprints on the dry paving stones.

Then she just wanted to keep going; so we ended up at the top of Times Square noshing huge salted pretzels smeared with nippy mustard washed down with orangeade.

"Hey, the line at the Tkts booth is pretty short. I bet we could get into a decent show. Have we got any money?"

I had the money, but there wasn't anything much very good to see. It came down to Moon For the Misbegotten and a thing called The Fox Hunt with George C. Scott. Well, Mandy didn't much like the title of the first one and the other one was called a 'farce' so that was it. Besides, Mandy liked Scott's "growly bear" persona. We went for it.

It was S. R. O.

"It's S. R.O.!" I yelled from inside the booth. She was out on the sidewalk looking at rings made by a sidewalk vendor from old horseshoe nails. She shook her head. Then she shook her head again, more like a terrier coming out of a pond.

"Do it! Maybe somebody has canceled. This can't be the hottest ticket on Broadway."

I did it.

The Broadhurst was not a fancy theater. It just did its job and not much more. It wasn't the greatest location either, around the corner from too many porn shows and surrounded by the kind of stores that have stuff you wish later you never bought. To get there we had to pass too many of what I think of as "looking around" kind of guys. You know the ones. They can be any shade and any age, usually wearing a plain gray sweatshirt and jeans, maybe smoking a cigarette like they are pissed off at it, looking down, looking this way, looking that way for...what? A fix? A cop? A guy who owes them money? An open purse? A ride to a Greek wedding in Hoboken?

Mandy pulled my elbow into her side and walked on the outside of the sidewalk all the way to the theater. They made us wait in the lobby until the "real customers" went in and sat down in their shabby but somewhat comfortable seats.

One thing about New York Theater, it's democratic. Oh, maybe at the Opera everybody has something fancy on, but you know that's because almost nobody but older people with money go to the Opera and they go mostly to be seen and show off their latest outfit from Saks or Barney's. Even so, a svelte young ballet rat will show up in black jeans and they let her right in.

But at a theater it is still fun 'watching the show who watch the show' because the range of outfits is so great. A high school kid with black Keds and a Mets cap comes in and right behind him the limo door opens and Maxwell Q. Maxwell and his mistress emerge, all white ascot and clingy Halston and they are practically shoved in the door by a gaggle of Korean tourists and a Nigerian couple in arguing dashikis. Everybody just hangs out in the normality of it. But it makes me feel ordinary and invisible.

We weren't totally transparent. One very old, very crumpled usher with dyed black hair kept running her eyes from Mandy's belly to my face and back. Then she shook her head. I wanted to sputter, "I know what you are thinking and it didn't happen that way. I am not a skunk too cheap to buy decent tickets so my pregnant wife can sit down."

They let us in when the theater was already dark and the show was already beginning, with no chance to see if there were any vacant seats. But it was comfortable enough for me, pressed against the ancient varnished oak of the half wall behind the last row. The sound was okay if a bit muffled by the overhanging balcony and interrupted by noises from the lobby.

I probably missed most of the first scene because I was so busy straining my eyes for empty seats. The usher had said she would find something for us, but I didn't trust her because I couldn't afford to dupe her ten dollars to look out for us.

Besides, the play's magic spell was beginning to take effect.

George C. Scott, in the persona of Foxwell J. Sly was in bed in a flowing nightshirt and cap with a tassel. His toady, Simon Abel was buttering the ears of a "suitor" who had come to call, bringing a fancy engraved plate and some tasty tidbits (which he proceeded to eat himself since Sly was feigning deep illness, near unto death.) It was Abel's job to convince each caller that he was destined to become Foxwell Sly's heir upon his untimely death.

There is a moment, staring through a tunnel of darkness at colorful characters moving on a bright stage that mesmerizes like the spinning watch of a hypnotist. The mind releases its clutch on the ordinary and the body disappears.

I could feel the tense grip of Foxwell Sly's fingers as he took the precious plate. I could smell the linen of his sheets, hear the rustle of their sinister music, choke on the cologne of his foppish servant. The laughter of the invisible audience was my own, all of it, titters and guffaws, giggles and thumping on the floor.

I lost Mandy for a time, as surely as if we had wandered apart down two parallel corridors. Even with her leg against mine, her laugh in harmony with my own she was in a different world...until she spoke.

"I think no-one's going to sit in that one."

"What?"

"The seat right here. Just one."

"Where?"

"Right here, this back row."

"Oh, I didn't see. It's so close..."

"I'm going after it. No point in waiting. What do you think?

"I bet nobody else...O.K.?"

"Whatever. Yeah, do it. I'm right here."

"Do you think I should?"

"What? Of course."

Mandy wedged her way down the row, those already seated not at all pleased to have the performance interrupted by the well-padded rump and sizable stomach of a pregnant woman. Yet each tried to be very polite about a crushed arch or a face full of fabric. She reached her seat and after some fuddling with her coat she nested.

The next "suitor," Doctor Ravenscroft, was deaf as a post, but his eyes brightened every time he caught the sounds of a dangerous symptom: leaden skin, shallow breath, a dripping eye. The prospect that he, a broken down hack would outlive the illustrious Foxwell J. Sly and inherit his sizable estate, was almost enough to send him into a fit.

The illusion gradually spread out again. Now Mr. Crowfoot, proffering a gleaming pearl was trying to win a little favor. However, he was appreciated more for the beauty of the young wife he kept sequestered than for the generosity of his benevolence. Coaxed by the wily servant he was led to believe that the Fox was so frail as to be beyond hearing anything. Crowfoot made so bold as to compare his skin to a crumbling wall which the rain courses down in streaks.

Hearing Mandy's warm laughter I hung my arm over the rail and found her shoulder and, feeling free in the dark, I let my fingers slide onto her swollen breast, Sly's minion was praising Crowfoot's wife as "hearty and ripe as a harvest whose clear skin makes a swan seem dingy." Mandy pulled my hand to the center of her chest and held it there absentmindedly milking my fingers.

Sly had devised a plan to captivate Crowfoot's wife. He set up his stage outside her house and swam into his oratory, part sermon, part sales pitch, with a dose of common sense, some horrific tales and "true and verifiable accounts" of "folks just like you" brought back from the brink of death by just a sniff of this sweet elixir.

I smoothly slid my fingers inside the collar of Mandy's cape, across the firm collarbone and onto the urgent mound that was so ready for the baby, due in only a few days. I gave it a little squeeze and felt a dribble of warm milk tickle my palm.

Mandy gasped but it was swallowed by laughter from the audience. I started gently circling the stiff damp nipple, the motion of my fingers invisible under her cape.

George C. Scott's voice, like heavy wheels on gravel. The audience was caught by this silver rhetoric. The laughter rolled away from me, hit the stage and rolled back. It was one voice, or almost one. A sharp note, just to my right, stood out. It was gleeful, a bit diabolic and quite familiar. How could I know a laugh so well?

I looked down the rail and not ten feet away someone was having a great time. The thinning black hair was slicked back, the devil's eyebrows bounced with each laugh. It was Jack Nicholson, looking pretty classy in a tailored tan raincoat, a starched white collar with a burgundy tie, creased pants with wide cuffs over highly polished light brown shoes. He didn't move much but he danced with delight.

I could tell that he was tasting the lines as Scott said them, nodding, his tongue sometimes catching the light as he mouthed a phrase just spoken. He brought his hands up and clapped fiercely on a line that deserved more than a laugh.

So now there were three shows happening, the one in the lights, the other reflected in Nicholson's face, and the subtle dance of my fingers on Mandy's breast. He was clearly enjoying the role of audience, not ashamed to be seen, yet invisible except to me. Mandy was enjoying the show and beginning to squirm each time my fingers brushed her nipple.

And I now invented a fourth show, one dancing in my thoughts, puzzling out whether Jack had been invited or had dropped in on a whim. Were the actors old friends? I tried to remember some film they had shared. Was Nicholson playing the role in L.A. or for a film? Perhaps he was producing the show.

All that and that ball of new life just below Mandy's warm chest.

I was watching the play without hearing much of it when a change in the weather to my right pulled my eyes back into the darkness. A woman had appeared next to Jack. Perhaps it was Anjelica Huston, perhaps the one who stole him from her. I didn't know any of them to look at. Her hands were up in his face, long, dark nails aiming at his cheeks, his eyes, shaking. His hands were on her wrists and slowly, quietly and with obvious effort he was pulling them down until they disappeared beneath the raincoat.

His hard, small, angry tango maneuvered her against the railing where he pinned her with his body. His shoulders were moving just a little. The tendons in her neck stood out. As she threw her head toward me a large lock of shining dark hair fell loose.

They argued in whispers now, while the audience laughed. I could hear each voice very clearly but almost nothing of what was said. It was like a fast stream on sharp stones. Her chin was deep in his shoulder; her lips stretched wide pouring her diatribe into his ear. I couldn't see his face at all, but I wouldn't have been surprised if his teeth had been clenched on her ear lobe.

It was too much of a coincidence. In the play Crowfoot was all but spitting on his wife for throwing her handkerchief to the Fox to wipe his "fevered brow" as he hawked his miracle cures. The jealous husband was ready to call his wife a whore for a glance, and when she bewailed his short leash he swore he would fit her with a spiked collar.

For the first time the audience fell silent. The whispers from the famous couple were more audible now. I leaned a little that way and listened hard. The woman, perhaps it was Anjelica, was chanting something. When I finally made it out I realized it was, "You bastard, you bastard, you bastard, you bastard."

A laugh from the audience reminded me of the other play. The air was warmer now. But behind the barrier the tableau had frozen. The couple had fused together inside the raincoat. A rhythmic vibration moved down the polished rail. Squelched hisses, grunts and small cries were swallowed up by applause. Suddenly, Anjelica's eyes squeezed very tight and her chin stretched toward the dark ceiling, her mouth wide, as a loud howl from the audience filled it. It disguised a moan from Mandy who had clutched my hand to her and was rocking against it.

A moment later, sprung from her trap, Anjelica strode behind me out of the lobby. Other than the errant lock of hair, she looked immaculate. Jack, ignoring that exit, hung over the rail trying to focus on the play again. It was a plot twist in which The Fox was trying to get some old fool to disinherit his son. Jack shook his head and turned away.

The pure worship of the actor's art that had been in his face earlier had totally vanished. Real life with its musky perfume had stolen the drama.

He ran a hand through his hair and noticed then that he was holding something. He peered at it as though it were an insect. Then he looked at me. That set him in motion. Striding past he stuffed the item into my pocket and blew out of the theater.

I thought I heard that brass voice yelling "Taxi! Taxi!" but maybe not. He probably had a limo outside. Maybe she was in it.

At intermission the crumpled usher found me a seat, one that really made me feel guilty. It was a good one, row H, three seats from the aisle. I could have stayed at the rail massaging Mandy's breast. I could have offered her the good seat. But I didn't want to. I wanted to sit in my good seat and get lost in the show.

It was magic to cup around Mandy's smooth back that night, both my hands at last on her bare, full breasts, with the new long, stiff purple nipples. I gentle slipped into her from behind, pushing into those plump engorged tissues, knowing that the lovemaking could bring on labor. Mandy pushed her thick buttocks back against me, squeezing my cock with those muscles inside, the ones she had been exercising in class. When I felt that clutch I almost came, but I held on, working up a nice smooth rhythm, murmuring into the back of her neck and squeezing both breasts. They leaked and she laughed and she cried and she came big with a moan that rose up all the way from deep in her belly. Both nipples squirted hard into my hands and moments later as my semen poured into her, her water broke. An amazing beginning.

Matilda was born seventeen hours later. It wasn't fun for Mandy, but in that tank full of warm water, with me behind her holding her hot slippery body, it was the essence of sexy. I confess that as she panted and moaned as though she was having the ultimate orgasm, I came.

Later, as I pulled myself together in the Father's Room while Mandy slept I reached into my coat pocket for a handkerchief and came up with a triangle of fine black lace attached to a band of broken black elastic. That evening I stitched it together very carefully. The tear was invisible.

When I offered it to Mandy in a little pink bag she was puzzle. Maybe she thought it was a baby gift. But when she saw what it was I gave her a little wink.

She was very pleased.

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