Then from the zig of the fire escape above, before it twisted down into the zag of hers, there came to Marylin, through the medley of city silences and the tears in her heart, this melody, on a jew’s-harp:
If it had any key at all, it was in the mood of Chopin’s Nocturne in D flat major. A little sigh for the death of a day, a sob for the beauty of that death, and the throb of an ecstasy for the new day not yet born.
Looking up against the sheer wall of the vertical city, on the ledge of fire escape above hers, and in the yellow patch of light thrown out from the room behind, a youth, with his knees hunched up under his chin, and his mouth and hand moving at cross purposes, was playing the harmonica.
Wide apart were his eyes, and blue, so that while she gazed up, smiling, as he gazed down, smiling, it was almost as if she ran up the fire escape through the long clear lanes of those eyes, for a dip into the little twin lakes at the back of them.
And—why, didn’t you know?—there was a lift of cowlick to the right side of his front hair, as he sat there playing in the twilight, that was exactly the shape of an apostrophe!
In the bleak little graveyard of Hattie Bertch’s dead hopes, dead loves, and dead ecstasies, more than one headstone had long since begun to sag and the wreaths of bleeding heart to shrivel.
That was good, because the grave that is kept bubbly with tears is a tender, quivering thing, almost like an amputated bit of self that still aches with threads of life.
Even over the mound of her dead ambitions, which grave she had dug with the fingers of her heart, Hattie could walk now with unsensitive feet. It had become dry clay with cracks in it like sardonic smiles.
Smiles. That was the dreadful part, because the laugh where there have been tears is not a nice laugh, and Hattie could sit among the headstones of her dead dreams now and laugh. But not horridly. Just drearily.
There was one grave, Heart’s Desire, that was still a little moist. But it, too, of late years, had begun to sink in, like an old mouth with receding gums, as if the very teeth of a smiling dream had rotted. They had.
Hattie, whose heart’s desire had once been to play Juliet, played maids now. Buxom negro ones, with pale palms, white eyes, and the beat of kettledrums somewhere close to the cuticle of the balls of her feet.
She was irrevocably down on managers’ and agents’ lists as “comedy black.” Countless the premiers she had opened to the fleck of a duster! Hattie came high, as maids go. One hundred and fifty dollars a week and no road engagements. She dressed alone. Her part in “Love Me Long” had been especially written in for the sake of the peculiar kind of comedy relief she could bring to it. A light roar of recognition swept the audience at her entrance. Once in a while, a handclap. So Hattie, whose heart’s desire had once been to play Juliet, played maids now. Buxomly.