a/n: the Stork Club was demolished in 1966 and replaced by Paley Park. please review :)
She's not expecting anything. She just gets out of the yellow taxicab with as much force as she can muster, her red heels clattering against the sidewalk. She hands the cabbie a twenty, over her shoulder, and doesn't look back as she shuts the door, adjusting the hem of her dress.
There is a big, rounded fabric awning stretching towards the street, glistening faintly in the misty, evening light, THE STORK CLUB emblazoned boldly on its side. She stands a moment before it, even though there is a light rain pattering against her shoulders and her dress and her bare ankles and her hair, which she spent hours meticulously curling and pinning to one side. The red clutch feels slick in her hand.
"Hey, miss, you need an umbrella?"
A youngish-looking doorman approaches her with the item in question and she shakes her head abruptly, turning towards the gold-rimmed glass doors and walking inside.
He expects a building and he gets a park. He frowns down at the map in his hands until a wind whips by him, taking it to the sky. He watches it go, then turns back to the space before him. He doesn't need it anyway—he knows his city. It may be bright and beautiful and heady and strange, now, but he knows it. 3 East 53rd Street.
The space is perfectly squared out between two buildings. A tan sort of fence stretches along the back wall, and between him and it there are dozens of skinny trees, their branches reaching to the sky. He steps towards the entrance, a plaque catching his attention. It glints a dull bronze and reads: This park is set aside in memory of Samuel Paley, 1875-1963, for the enjoyment of the public.
He frowns, and then goes back to staring, afraid to cross the threshold. There aren't many people inside, but the ones that are cluster around white, plastic tables in thin, metal-mesh white chairs. He is about to step forward when his attention is drawn to a woman standing on the curb. There is a light rain and it hits her shoulders and her dress and her very bare legs and her hair. He doesn't understand the dames in this day and age still, their need to expose every inch of skin, but he does feel bad. He turns his back on the park and reaches towards her.
"Hey, miss, you need an umbrella?"
She turns, her arm hanging in the air; at that moment the yellow car pulls sharply to the curb and she gets in, shaking her head abruptly. He is left standing alone in the middle of the sidewalk.
The waiter seats her at a corner table with a view of the dance floor. She watches but does not see the couples twirl gracefully across the hard wood as the band plays something incredibly upbeat and jazzy. The menu before her, laminated, does little else to hold her attention, and she gazes at it with an uninterested eye. She idly pushes the chair out next to her with the toe of her shoe, and places her clutch on that. Then she stares at the empty chair until the waiter returns.
She orders water, because if he cannot get drunk why should that give her the liberty to?
The waiter leaves and she is left along with her thoughts and the music and the flickering light of the candle sitting in the middle of the table. She runs a hand through the bottom of her hair, flitting over the collar of her dress; her fingers come away smelling faintly of the perfume she applied liberally over her neck.
As she traces a finger across the menu she hears footsteps and looks up to find a man towering over her, his hand held out expectantly. She puts on her best military face and raises an eyebrow.
"Wanna dance?" he says by way of an introduction, smiling cockily. His eyes are blue and his hair is blonde. If she closes her eyes, maybe she could pretend.
"I'm sorry." She replies in her crisp, British-English. "But I'm waiting for the right partner."
Without another word she turns back to the menu.
He shrugs into his leather jacket and takes a seat at a corner table with a view of the rest of the park—Paley Park. He wonders when the Stork Club closed for good and wonders why they couldn't have just kept it. The chair is uncomfortable as he sits, rain misting his hair. The table top before him is dewy with water and he trails a finger through it absentmindedly. There is another metal-mesh chair across from him and he pokes it further back with his foot, as if waiting for someone to sit there. He stares at the empty chair until he becomes aware of a faint music.
Big band, jazz stuff. Stuff he grew up with. He looks towards the only other filled table and spies something bulky, metal, and square. If someone were with him he could ask about it, what it was, how it worked; as it stands now, all he sees is that it is like a record player, creating music from nothing. The group stands up and he goes back to staring at the table.
He wishes he could get drunk. He never did before the experiment and now he never could and he thinks it incredibly unfair.
The music becomes louder and there are people twirling beneath the trees like they are on some sort of hardwood dance floor. His hands clench and he moves them into his pockets, trying to warm his fingers. As he does he hears footsteps and looks up to find a woman from the party standing timidly across from him. He tries to look kind, but it comes out more dejected.
"Wanna dance?" she asks shyly, looking back at the group twirling beneath the trees. He feels bad that she is the odd one out. Her eyes are honeysuckle and her hair is brown. If he closes his eyes, maybe he could pretend.
"I'm sorry." He replies in his bulky, Brooklyn-English. "But I'm waiting for the right partner."
It sounds rude and he regrets it as she sort of scurries away beneath the far trees looking like a wounded dog, but he just goes back to staring at the table.
They play something slow. It's a heartbreaking sort of slow, and she can't focus on the singer's words, just the sound of her voice floating hauntingly over the dance floor and the people eating around it. The frenzied Charleston of before fades to something softer. Sidestep-sidestep, sway, sway, sidestep-sidestep, sway, sway. She blinks rapidly, turning to her steak, which sits untouched on the plate before her.
She purses her lips and picks up the knife. Her knuckles are white and she can barely see her food for the blinking as she takes the first slice across the rare meat. It's cold as she puts it gingerly in her mouth, between red-coated lips. It tastes like ash and nothing, but she forces herself to chew and swallow.
Sidestep-sidestep, blinkblinkblink, sway, sway, sidestep-sidestep, blinkblinkblink, sway, sway.
They play something slow. He listens to it float from the metal box whose name he does not know, just as he doesn't know why the Stork Club had to close or why he survived so long in the ice. His eyebrows draw together. He takes a hand from his pocket so that he can run it fitfully over his face, but the frown lines don't disappear—they only get deeper. He looks up through his eyelashes at the party at the other table. Their dancing has turned to something softer.
Hands on waist. Face down turned. Sidestep-sidestep, sway, sway.
He closes his eyes and lets the music float over him, and for just a moment he lets himself imagine.
Hands on red waist. Face down turned towards honeysuckle eyes. Sidestep-sidestep, sway, sway.
By her watch it is almost ten o'clock. The place is fading, turning to darker things. The band on stage left some time ago; now only a record player remains in their stead, spinning slowly, methodically. Half of her steak is gone, but that's all she can seem to manage.
The chair across from her is still empty.
She looks back at the watch. Something wet splashes across the glass.
"You're late." She whispers into the empty air. She stands, trailing a hand across the table, picks up her clutch, and is gone.
By his watch it is almost ten o'clock. The only light comes from the meager park lamps. The party of dancers left some time ago, and now the only thing to remind him that they were there is the disarray of the far tables.
The chair across from him is still empty.
He looks back at the watch. A raindrop splashes heavily onto the glass, followed by another, and then another.
"I'm sorry I'm late." He whispers into the empty air. He stands abruptly, heart pounding, mist turning into downpour, and as he walks quickly from the park he swears he catches the faintest hint of perfume on the stormy wind—then it is gone.