The tape machine was hidden at the back of a dusty steel-framed shelf down in the basement. It was one of those portable reel-to-reel things with a small three inch spool of tape still on the right-hand side. It hadn’t even been re-wound. Or maybe, it had just been turned over and only Side “A” listened to.
After I rewound it, I listened to Side “A” too. It was her practice recordings of all those songs she made her own: “I Wanna be Kissed by You”, “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend”, “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”, and “Let’s Make Love”. Her voice was sweet, but even more off-tune than the final records. But the life and personality were all there. She couldn’t stop herself being sexy, sultry, funny, cheeky and irreverent. There were lots of gaps and false starts when she forgot the words, or hit the wrong notes. Lots of interjections, swear words you wouldn’t think she could use, and lots of laughter at herself and her amateur attempts to expand her talents.
My eyes were streaming by the end of that first side. But then I turned the reel over and played Side “B”. It started with that “Happy Birthday” song; always a tear-jerker; here it was excruciatingly sad. Just her voice, cracked and broken, struggling to keep control and on key. It ended after a few minutes, not even finished, just with a sob. Then there was silence. Five minutes, or more. I was about to stop it and listen to Side “A” again when it clunked back into life:
o – o
“Shit, Shit, Shitty Shit!
“I know I shouldn’t talk like that, but this shitty life is gettin’ me down. It never used to be like this, although I was never really happy. All those films; all those men; none of them knew what I really wanted, except maybe Arthur – and Jack, of course. My friend, Jack.
“He said I said funny lines; I made him laugh, took his mind off things. Well I don’t know. These things just sorta slip out, like my tit did on that stupid film about a prince. Oh! LarryO! He was a pet. So stiff and high falutin’, straight like a ramrod. But the perfect gentleman; he’d always ask if I’d come.
“They all think I’m this perfect woman; a Goddess. But I’m not. I’m fat, and my tits are quite small really. It’s just the make-up and the clothes the Studio makes you wear. I can walk OK, I guess.
“I knew he was married. Now she is perfect. She’s everything I wanna be: sophisticated, intelligent, beautiful, loyal, hard-working. They’ve got the same name; that must be confusing.
“I know I’m not perfect, but that schmuck, Hoover, he’s a bastard! And well-named. He just sucks everyone up into his dirty old bag. Once he’s got you, there’s no escape; you’re trapped. You die of asphyxiation, choking on the dust and filth he forces down your throat.
“I’m pretty sure it was him started giving me the drugs. Where would I get them from? I don’t know where you would go; or at least, I didn’t. I was just a nuisance. I was in the way; I am in the way. I think they just wanna get rid of me now. It’s too dangerous for him, for my friend, Jack.
“Oh, my Jack! I want you so much, but I can’t have you. Your brother tries to help, an’ he’s a lawyer; the goddam fuckin’ Attorney General, for crissakes. You’d think he’d understand, but he can’t see my misery. Why it’s more important to me than life that you’re gone.
“Do you remember the first time we met? It was a little Italian dive down in Manhattan, where nobody goes who knows anyone. I thought it was to protect you, but it was just to keep it secret; so your wife wouldn’t find out and be hurt. You were always thinking of her.
“You flirted, and I was dazzled. Why me? I didn’t know anything. Not about Politics, anyway. You were tense though. Your neck was stiff, and you winced even when you smiled. We ate pizzas and drank a little wine. You told me you were in awe of me! Strike-a-light! I was jelly. You asked if you could come to my place; I hardly had the strength to mutter “Yes.”
“It was everything I ever dreamed of. You were so gentle, it made me cry. I would do anything for you. I massaged your back; it hurt so bad. You relaxed a little.
“Then things started getting’ stupid. All sorts of fuck was happening and you couldn’t see your way through it. World War? Again? Nucelar Oblivion? Surely, it wasn’t that bad, but it was. Did I help? Was there any sort of release from all that worry. I said some things about the poor Blacks down south. That made you laugh. You said you’d try and do somethin’.
“But it was the spinks that did us. We had to keep it secret and too many people knew, or were guessin’. You didn’t want to, but it had to stop. I couldn’t bear it. I can’t bear it. I don’t want to bear it. I’m gonna finish it, too.”
o – o
The tape ran out and the spool just carried on spinning round, the loose end swishing on each revolution. I just sat on the floor, my head in my hands, unable to move; unable to stop it.
FLICK, WHIR – FLICK, WHIR . . .
The other stories are just about Jack!