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THE DUCHESSíS HOUSE

by

Wayne H.W Wolfson



The street lights play off the smooth surface of the puddles. Tiny stars at my feet. A reminder that Iím supposed to be somewhere, but I no longer look. I get on the train. In front of me sits the dwarf with her flute. I see her riding the train every day around the same time.

Iíve never heard her play but sheís always there, four seats back from the front, holding it. One time I stayed on five stops past where I was going to watch as an old man dressed like a janitor sat beside her, calloused hands nervously patting pockets as he awkwardly made passes. I forgot how it turned out, I think I was with the waitress that night. I forgot her name, same as a spice....Anise.

I head to Faustís. Sitting down at the bar I hold up two fingers.

Anise, even now I hear my love crying, her sobs sound like the ocean. I was smarter than her, stronger than her, which made it a passion all the more cruel for the power it held over me.

Anise, she was the sea. I had spent every day, entranced by motion, swaying with her pull. The sea whose arms hold me from within a dream, black bottomless sea.

I felt the cold weight pressing down upon me as I drifted off to sleep, caught up in her currents. And the churning, swaying of her hips, just behind my eyes right before waking.

Sheís gone now and in romantic moments I tell myself that I still come here to drown my sorrows, to try to trap her ghost. Truth is Iíve always been here. A matter not of the heart, but of stamina.

I tap my cigarette on the rim of my glass, the ash hissing at me from the bottom. Slowly I look around. Everyone is lonely. This knowledge was the secret to my success. I eyed the woman sitting at the end of the bar. She had brown frizzy hair with a little mole protruding from her second chin. She was drinking the cheap stuff which told me she had been here a while.

Holding up two fingers I smiled and nodded at her. She sat down next to me and told me her name. We were two, maybe three drinks away from the surprise of waking up with what your passion has left you.

Last call. We were closer to my place, and I hoped that she didnít steal anything. I led her through the alley around back, which made her nervous. As quietly as possible we went up the back steps.

One night Linnette, in a fit of drunken love decided to clean my apartment. She moved everything around. Since then my writing table blocked the front door.

I turned on the little light above the sink, the cord breaking in my hand. She took off her coat and looked at the stack of books besides the bed, their titles being meaningless to her.

I liked the way her belly sagged. I liked the way she looked sad and tired. We rolled around, all the troubles in the world vanishing for a while through a series of pushes and pulls.

She let out a string of short sharp cries, we panted and lied to each other and then it was all over. She went into the bathroom and without shutting the door, sat down.

People are always telling me their life-stories. I think itís because they know Iím a writer and want at least part of themselves immortalized. Maybe I just make it all up after the fact, out of boredom.

Iíve never had patience or discipline to become great. I make my art walk the streets, turning tricks. She looks out the little window next to the sink that was always kept partially open.

ďWhatís that lot out there, to the side?Ē

ďThatís whatís left of the Duchessís house. Do you want some water?Ē

Time has agreed to be your assassin. Every year taking a coin and biting it before it vanishes into his vest pocket, he extends a gloved hand. Now itís only a matter of time.

She had been beautiful. Large almond eyes, skin a fine porcelain the color of egg shell. No one was exactly sure where she came from. Some said Kiel, her father a simple fisherman. Others Moscow, her family royalty that had fallen from favor.

She made love to the camera, exciting the audience with their every act of matinee voyeurism. She was called ďThe DuchessĒ after the title of her most popular movie.

In it she played royalty that comes to New York to visit and falls in love with the hotelís doorman. She angers her family with her love for a commoner and the fact that she is ready to sacrifice everything for that love.

Right before they are to marry he reveals he is really a prince who pretended to be a commoner in order to find a woman who loved him just for him, and not his money or title. The final scene is a huge royal wedding.

Lots of people speculated that she was high strung because she really was royalty. It may have been the little pink pills she took to stay thin.

The year sound came to the movies was the worst one for the Duchess. None of the talkiesí directors who had seen her earlier work expected the Duchessís voice, thick with accent, to clomp around every scene in leaden shoes.

Calls for her to play main parts stopped. The Duchess tried diction lessons, but to her the voice of her instructor and her own didnít sound that different. And with no parts coming her way the lessons were expensive.

Rent was due. It was a big house that the Duchess had always loved. Rent was due. She had some furs, they were gifts, she couldnít possibly wear all the furs she had anyways. The Duchess didnít get as much for the furs as she thought she would, but rent was paid. No parts came her way. Having been The Duchess no one offered her the smaller parts. She wouldíve taken them, just to try something new, of course.

Although she already had a large tab, she couldnít sleep at night and had the grocer deliver a few bottles everyday. One of the last dollars she had going to the delivery boy who handed her the brown paper bag and stood in the door way, hand out, looking at her with a bored curiosity.

Rent was almost due again. The Duchess had beautiful silverware.

ďIím not having guests over right now and by the time I do I will be working again and buy a new set.Ē

Although they were heavy and ornate she didnít get as much as she had expected. Still rent was paid.

The Duchessís bones ached. She rarely left home, expecting any moment to be called back to work. Her hands shook slightly and occasionally a cough bothered her.

There was a knock at the door. Tying her robe shut, she shuffled to the door. Instead of the usual delivery boy it was the grocer himself. He tried to be polite, talking about the weather, but the Duchess just blankly stared at the brown bag in his hand. He blushed and lowering his voice slightly, reminded her of her tab.

Eyes clouding with tears, the Duchess informed him it would be paid in full, tomorrow. Leaving the bag by the door he murmured his apologies and left.

The next day the Duchess left a note on her door in case anyone came by and went downtown. She sold the rings from her fingers. There were three of them.

She went into the grocers. Two stock boys leaned on brooms, cups of coffee in hand, talking. As she cleared her throat they both looked up. One of them disappeared into the back room, returning in a few minutes with the grocer.

As she handed him the money her hands shook. He thanked her, but before anything else could be said she turned around and left.

When she was back outside the sun seemed too bright. There was a rasping in her chest and she couldnít remember when she last ate. She began to perspire, it was the sunís fault, it was too bright, too hot. How could no one else notice.

The Duchess walked down the street, taking slow uneven steps. Not being able to go any further she found herself in front of a diner.

She went inside and ordered a coffee and toast. Reaching into her purse her hand tried to find the money as she vaguely recalled the last time she ate. As the Duchess put her money on the table the waitress finally came over with her breakfast.

The coffee was all right, but two bites into the toast and the Duchessís stomach began to hurt. She was able to eat one whole piece of toast before getting sick all over the table.

Talking to her the way one would an animal, the waitress threw her out. The Duchess stood in the middle of the street, dazed and weak. A large man with tiny eyes and a red nose came by and asked her if she was o.k.

Trying to sound as respectable as possible she told the red nosed man she needed help getting home. With the palm of his hand he brushed back his hair and offered her his arm. As they walked he didnít try to talk to her, keeping a respectful silence.

About halfway home she began to feel better. His name was Reuben. She told him about how unfair the grocer was, how unfair these new directors were. She told Reuben about the famous actors she knew, well most of them were dead, but they had been great.

They reached her house. She invited him in, just to get out of the sun, of course. They sat in her living room. She offered Reuben a drink. The bottle was half full, surely the grocer wouldnít give her credit ever again. She poured herself a smaller amount than Reuben.

He thanked her and raised his glass in salute. When they finished he thanked her again and got up. Understanding her situation he said that he was confident he could do better for her than the grocer.

She gave him some money, half of what the grocer charged and asked him to come back later.

Later that night he was back. The stuff he brought wasnít as good as the grocerís, but there was more of it. They had a glass or two together and listened to the radio.

Reuben came by every night. He always brought two brown bags. Although she wasnít sure what he did during the day, he was always on time. A polite hello and small talk about news that made front page.

One night as they sat back into their second cup Reuben asked if she would mind him bringing a few friends by. Very old friends, she wouldnít have to stand on cermony with them.

The Duchess thought of how empty her cupboard was and frowned.

ďTheyíre old war buddies...casual visit...youíll love them... honestly.Ē

The Duchess smiled.

The next night there was five of them, right on time. The Duchess liked them. They all seemed to have names that sounded like comic book characters.

Their coats were all covered in dust. One of them started to say something about a train yard before Reuben shot him a dirty look. The duchess liked them all. Every other night Reuben would bring them by. Rent was almost due again. The Duchess couldnít think of anything else to sell. She only had half the money she usually gave Reuben. The week before rent she didnít even have that.

Grimly he nodded, he took her hands and told her they were friends, that she shouldnít worry. That night he brought his friends by. Although she hadnít been able to give him any money he also brought a large brown bag with him.

Cookie drank less than the others, but smiled more. An hour earlier than usual she went upstairs to her bedroom. On the stairway her eyes met Reubenís and she gave a little nod.

A few minutes later Cookie headed upstairs as the others took off their shoes and settled on the couches for the night.

The Duchess lay back in bed. Cookie came in. He took off his shirt revealing patches of raw skin where he had scratched too hard in his sleep. He kept his pants on, bunching up around his ankles.

Laying on top of her he started to cover her face with kisses. He smelled of coal, sweat and the bottle. She felt him pushing against her, but kept her legs tightly locked.

Cookie grunted something and slapped her hard across the face several times. Her ears rang. She felt her legs being opened. With two rough thrusts he was in. She closed her eyes. Her body was bounced up and down from Cookieís weight. What she at first took for the bedís creaking were her own muffled sobs.

Cookie began going faster and faster, he pressed his mouth against hers. His whole body shook and then growing weak he collapsed on top of her, laying there for several minutes until lack of air made the Duchess push him off.

By the time the Duchess woke up the next morning everyone was gone. That night Reuben was back, on time with everyone else. No one said anything about the night before.

It was understood that from now on they would all sleep on the couches, except one of them. They would bring the brown bags and she wouldnít have to pay for them anymore.

This was one less worry for her, but there was still rent. The night that he slept upstairs Reuben told her not to worry about that anymore. She didnít know what he had planned and by morning always forgot to ask.

After a while they no longer felt like guests, they felt like it was their home too. The carpet was stained, the couchesí upholstery ripped in different spots, cups that broke were left on the floor to be ground into dust.

Although she no longer had her little pink pills, the Duchess was rail thin.

One day a mailman came by with an envelope covered with official looking stamps. Before she could read it Reuben ripped it up.

Neighbors complained to the police about all the bums that came and went at all hours of the day. They complained of the noise and of the smell. Finally enough complaints came in that an eviction notice was sent.

City hall received no reply. The day they sent a sheriff with another notice Reuben made everyone lay on the floor quiet and still for hours after the knocking stopped.

A week later they were all laying on the floor again as two sheriffs nailed the front door shut, a notice tacked to the top board.

Someone broke a window in the basement and after the Duchess cleaned up all the glass that was their new way in and out.

City hall was still receiving complaints. Since no one could be reached to discuss options power to the house was cut.

Someone went out and stole candles from a near by church. Water to the house was cut. Candles stuck in the top of empty bottles were all over the house. In the candlelight the Duchess, the house, looked as pretty as it had once been.

Angry neighbors had broken every window with rocks dipped in tar. City hall threw up its hands and shrugged its shoulders.

Although no one noticed, sometimes the Duchess would sing. A tiny voice stretching across the night until it broke.

Finally it happened. No one knows if it was a candle accidentally knocked over or an angry neighbor. The house erupted into a bouquet of angry orange flames. The boarded up doors and windows along with the now empty bottles prevented anyone from getting out.

All the Duchessís neighbors came out to watch. Some say that they heard laughing or maybe singing right before the house was totally consumed.

She turns from the window and splashes cold water on her neck.

ďYouíre funny...Ē

She crawls into bed, her hair plastered to her forehead, a cupie doll gone to seed. She falls fast asleep. I turn on the television. Thereís an old black and white movie on. After watching it for a few minutes I grow bored. Turning off the television I climb into bed.





ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wayne H.W Wolfson is an internationally published author based out of California. Currently He is completing a collaboration with Boston based Grenadier on a CD of spoken word and music. For more on Wayne go to his website.




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