She leant against the wall, head back, staring into the night sky. The stream of tears had forged its way down her face, its banks littered with the debris of her make-up. Her mouth hung slightly open, the bottom lip still quivering. My world hung, waiting for her.
The city was still, as if in shock. The streetlights shone against the night, same as ever, somewhere traffic and a freight train rumbled their perpetual background noise, but there was something vital missing. It was as though nothing could not believe what had just transpired and everything feared moving, lest worse was to come. Maybe it was just me.
Eventually she exhaled, breathing a gout of smoke into the cold, unfriendly air. She sobbed again, but the tears had all been used up. Something harder crossed her face, an eggshell of firmer resolve. A hand slipped into the deep pocket of her scarlet coat to reassure herself of the compact revolver, now three shots lighter, that lay within. Ash dripped unnoticed from her cigarette.
“Tell me, Donald,” she said, her usually honey-tinged voice raw and splintered. “Tell me, did you ever think it would come to this?”
“I hoped it wouldn’t,” her eyes meet mine and I could see her adrift on a raft of unhappiness, lost on a sea of horrible circumstance. “I sincerely hoped it would all just go away, but deep down I could feel there was only one way it could go.”
“But, Clancy, he...” She choked back another sob. I longed to grab her in my arms and hug her until I crushed the misery out of her, but if I did that I would break the fragile scaffolding still holding her together, so I held myself back until she could rebuild her framework.
“Clancy was my friend, too, Phyllis.” I told her, needing her to know I shared in her sadness. “He helped me out of a very dark place once, but that wasn’t Clancy any more, not the Clancy I respected, not the Clancy you knew.”
“How can you be so calm?” It was almost an accusation, as though I had shrugged my shoulders and turned my back while everything played out.
“Have you ever watched a really good waiter?” She needed a distraction, something else to think about. “Someone who has made a career out of it, not some about-to-hit-it-big screen-writer or actor down on his luck. No matter how uneven the floor is, how many people try to trip him up or how many flights of stairs he has to climb, when he brings you your drink there’s barely a ripple in it. Right now I’m running over the most rutted track you’ve ever seen, but I’ll be damned if I’m spilling good whisky on the ground.”
“So what do we do now?” She gave me a look as though the world had fallen apart and I was the only solid ground left.
“We find some place where there people and there is music, and somewhere for you to fix your make-up. Then I buy us both a brandy and a coffee because I won’t be sleeping tonight and I don’t think you will either.” The lights of a passing car slid across her features, an unflattering hard portrait of moving shadows. The car’s engine broke the stillness in a not unwelcome fashion.
She dropped her cigarette to the pavement, still wet from the afternoon’s rain, and crushed it under a boot heel. As she pushed herself away from the wall there was a new look in her eyes, not the steel-hard gaze of the veteran, but the wavering glance of one unsure yet determined. She would hold together, for now. I straightened my tie, adjusted my hat and offered her my arm.
We made our way through the cracked concrete maze of the streets, two people maybe not fine, but not falling apart for now. She put her weight on my arm and I took comfort in the warmth of her body. The city sensed the turn of mood and responded in kind; sirens in the distance, a trashcan being overturned in an alley and the sound of an argument spilling from a tenement window somewhere above us. Nothing pretty, but life nonetheless.