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New York City

December 26, 1950

The Ashland Hotel is a dump in a rundown area of the city. I live in a one-room apartment, two rooms if you include the bathroom, with my common-law husband, sometime cab driver, Joe Davies.  The hotel is a perfect setting for a murder.

 

Aser Thorson is some Swedish guy Joe had picked up in his cab earlier in the evening.  Thorson lives on the same floor as us, but we had never met. Joe is a talkative sort who is always bragging to people that his wife had danced with Rudolph Valentino, been in the Ziegfeld Follies and starred in silent movies.  I guess Thorson wanted to meet me.

No one bothered to ask me what I thought, so when they show up, I didn’t know what is going on.  But the sight of two whiskey bottles and some beer in a stranger’s arms made for warm introductions.  He was about 45, tall, dirty blond hair, lanky and smelled like fruit trees.  I found out later he was an apple picker and worked in a cider factory.

After listening to Joe’s stories, I could see Thorson is disappointed when they come in.  I guess he is expecting some raving beauty instead he gets a 50 year old woman with frizzy red  hair and a puffy face.  Years of drinking had destroyed any beauty I once had.  Joe had to get back to his cab and would not be home until 7am.  I don’t know what he was thinking leaving me alone with a stranger and a lot of hours to kill.  The liquor would help pass the time.

“Call me Aser,” he said.  I said he could call me Evelyn.

He suggests we go to his apartment down the hall.  We grab the bottles and walk the few steps to his place. It is much cleaner than mine.  The table isn’t littered with empty beer bottles and the sink isn’t stacked with dirty dishes.  I had given up cleaning my apartment long ago and left the job to Joe.  I didn’t have the energy anymore.

The evening wore on with more drinking and listless conversation.  Aser is a nervous character. He’s constantly snapping his fingers and toe-tapping to imaginary music. The more he drinks the edgier he becomes; I‘m too drunk to think anything of his actions.  I’m sitting there enjoying another whiskey, when he starts making demands.

“Joe said you were a chorus girl in the Follies,” he said,

“Show me how you danced.”

“What do you mean how I danced?”

“You know - the Follies and Valentino.”

“That was a long time ago, I don’t remember the routines.  And besides, I danced a tango with Valentino. It isn’t a dance you do by yourself.”

He gets up from his chair and turns the radio on.  After twisting the dial a few times he finds a station that isn’t playing Christmas music.

“Now you can dance.”

I didn’t feel like dancing or thinking of the Follies.  Thinking of the past always makes me melancholy.  I keep those days wrapped up in my mind like prized possessions stored in a trunk. The memories aren’t to be shared with a stranger. In those days, I was the “It” girl of the Follies even headlining at the Moulin Rouge in Paris.  Then later I’m the “It” girl of silent films being groomed by a top director for starring roles.  Movie critics and casting agents always mentioned my name and wrote, “Watch for Evelyn Ayres she’s going to be a star.”

Tucked away with those memories is my dance with Valentino - a tango.  It radiates a raw sexuality that made me the envy of a lot of actresses and I still live it over and over in my mind.  I can’t start thinking about those days and push the memories back in that area of my mind that stays closed.  I’m not going to allow the present to interfere with the past.

I’m thinking of leaving when Aser pours me a drink, then another and another.  Before I know it, I’m so high on booze, that I actually think I can remember the dance routines.  Aser notices the difference.

“You feel like dancing now?” he said.

I stumble from my chair and try to hum “Look for the Silver Lining” from Sally a Ziegfeld musical I was in back in the 20’s.  Holding a glass full of whiskey, I close my eyes and with the

song playing in my head attempt some of the dance moves.  I’m whirling, around and around with visions of being on the Ziegfeld stage with thousands of people watching, then I crash into the table sending bottles and ashtrays flying through the air.  I’m looking at Aser and he doesn’t move.  He’s sitting there with beer dripping down his shirt and a disgusted look on his face. I laugh.

I always seem to laugh at the wrong moment; evidently Aser didn’t have a sense of humor.  The room resembles a scene from a slapstick movie minus the pies - and the more I think about it, the louder I laugh until Aser suddenly stands up and slams his hand on the table.  That gets my attention and the laughter stops.  He hurt his hand and I am happy to see that it is his finger-snapping hand.  All that toe-tapping and finger-snapping gets on a person’s nerves.

He didn’t bother to sit back down, instead he begins pacing back and forth, kicking the bottles and ash trays out of his path. He’s not saying anything and I’m getting worried.  I’m thinking now is the time to leave.  Just as I begin to stand he reaches over and pushes me back into the chair.

“Get your hands off me I’m leaving,” I said. I try to stand.

“You can’t leave,” he shouts, and grabs my arms and jerks me from the chair. I’m trying to wrestle my way out of his grasp, but he holds me tighter.

“Let me go,” I scream in his face.  “The neighbors can hear us and they’ll call the cops.”  I begin to panic, “Joe will be home soon I remind Aser, he’ll wonder where I am.”

“Joe doesn’t care, he calls you a whore,” blurts Aser.  “Lots of men pay to sleep with you. Why do you think Joe told me about you?  Why do you think he took me to your apartment?  Why do you think I brought you here?  To see you tango?”  It is his turn to laugh; I guess he does have a sense of humor.

I’m not shocked by what he says, I’m mad!  Mad at Joe for thinking he can make money as a pimp and mad at Aser for thinking I’m an easy lay.  The anger keeps building until I’m on fire.

I scream in Aser’s face “Look you son of a bitch, I choose who I sleep with and it’s not some apple picker who smells like rotten fruit!”

I didn’t see the punch coming and like the books say “I see stars”.  Bright flickers of light are bouncing around my head.  My nose is bleeding and drops are dribbling down my lips.  My tongue makes an inventory of my teeth and nothing is loose or missing.  My vision is blurred and Aser is a hazy image looming over me.

“Get up,” said Aser, yanking on my arm.

I’m slow getting up and I stagger to my feet. The room is moving in a kaleidoscope of colors and I’m weaving with it; such a peaceful feeling like floating on air.  I want to go back to my apartment, lie on the bed and forget about this evening, but I can hear Aser’s voice.

“Take off your clothes,” he demands.

“I’m not that drunk,” I tell him and I wobble towards the door.  He reaches out and picks me up and throws me on the bed.

“I paid $10 dollars for a fuck and I’m getting one,” he whispers in my ear.

Sobriety kicks in, and I’m fighting for my life.  Aser is on top of me pulling at my clothes. I’m pushing and screaming, but he shoves a scarf in my mouth and holds my arms down.  He winds a handkerchief around my neck and I can feel it getting tighter and tighter.  The last thought I have is hearing a tango blaring from the radio and I am dancing with Valentino.

 

End

 

 

I’m 72 and this is one of many stories I have written.  I write because I enjoy it.

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