The following scene was cut from The Brandywine Prophet on the second draft.
For those of you who are not familiar with my novels, do you think this could be re-worked as a stand-alone short story?
The events surrounding “the incident” would grow imperative to Will. No coincidence was too small to be scrutinized for meaning.
He could have dreamed of anything that night as he laid in the dust beside his piano, but instead his subconscious carried him to his past and searched out blocked memories to give them new light.
If Sarah was a lioness, Ray-Ray was a squirrel. The twenty-three-year-old chorus girl and understudy never had the strength that his future wife would possess, but that’s not what Billy Carmel needed in 1974. Ray-Ray (a drop of golden sun) was short for Rachel. The pet name was conceived and bestowed by her boyfriend, Ry-Ry, and borrowed by Bill for six months during a directing internship in the basement of a Chicago theater.
It was less than a year ago that Billy clocked out at six-feet five-inches, making him just tall enough to impress basketball coaches and just thin enough to be labeled “gangly” by high-school girls. But he was terrible at basketball. He couldn’t shoot, dribble, or run, nor could he pass tests, focus on assigned readings, or keep a lasting friendship. As if school wasn’t miserable enough for a budding artist, Billy spent the first three years watching apprehension in the eyes of the upperclassmen as they faced graduation and the plucking fingers of the United States government. For three years Bill imagined the date of his birthday printed on a scrap of paper and drawn from a tumbling garbage can on live television. The chronic sense of dread only encouraged his ambivalence; he made Ds instead of Cs, avoided math and science to stew alone in the art room, and skipped entire school days to drive to the Grand Rapids cinema. When the draft was disbanded the summer before graduation, Billy decided to live his life to the fullest… and higher education was out of the question.
With his mother’s encouragement, Billy wrote letters to every theater in Detroit and Chicago. The notes explained his passion for the stage, music, cinema and writing. He wrote two paragraphs that attempted to explain his bubbling desire to create and the anxiety he experienced when he was caught with a good idea but no pen.
Three months later, Billy found himself wearing long sleeves in the middle of summer to hide his farm-boy tan from the scrutiny of the Windy City.
The relationship with Ray-Ray began in the chorus room, and that’s where it would stay. She had only nine minutes of stage time per night, and just before her number she would kiss Bill’s cheek, say, “Whaddya think?” and twirl her hips.
A wooden changing barrier was placed in the far corner of the chorus room. It began as Billy’s private writing-nook during nightly performances, but as Ray-Ray became a larger part of his internship, the space became theirs. He would read and write, and she would appear with a new twig for the nest. She stole fabric remnants from discarded costumes and slung them over the changing barrier. Photos of favorite actors and writers (borrowed from the chorus room mirrors) were tacked to their wall in a hodge-podge of black-and-white inspiration. The nest smelled of opium, though they never found the source.
The first time Ray-Ray bruised her chin, Bill bought the excuse. The third time, he locked her in the chorus room and made her explain.
“Ry-Ry isn’t the creative type like us, William,” (Rachel was the first person to call him “William” outside of his mother’s frustration, and the last person to call him “William” until Sarah.) “He’s the worker type; the kind of guy you say you’ll never understand.” Rachel told Bill that her boyfriend would sit in his orange-and-yellow uniform with his brown lunch sack and holler at women who passed the stretch of sidewalk he claimed as his own. “When the jackhammer breaks down, they use me!” was the only form of flattery Ry-Ry knew.
“We never have sex, William,” she said, dabbing at her eyeshadow in the halo of vanity bulbs. “Ten times in three years.”
“I’m used up,” she said.
“When I’m on that stage in those lights, pointe-shoe ribbons binding my ankles, my heart pouring for the world to see… then I’ll know I can leave.”
“Pointe shoes? But you’re a tapping chorus girl.”
“You know how you always say you could never write for a paper because the news has no soul?”
“You know how poetry moves you?”
“Your newspaper is my ‘tapping chorus girl.’ Your poetry is my ballet.”
So days and weeks and months were spent in the softening chorus room; day after day in preparation for roles she would never assume.
In the meantime, Bill and Ray-Ray grew closer in their nest. He read poetry and borrowed Johnny’s acoustic to pluck her a song. Rachel never responded to his work; she never encouraged or distracted him while he performed. His music and poetry simply existed with her as art should, affecting their conversation and setting the mood endless evenings. Sometimes she practiced her tap number from the show. Sometimes she taught him ballet positions, taking his hands and placing them on her waist or the curved muscles of her outstretched legs. Bill would balance her, lift her, twirl her, and in those duets–his muscles growing and tightening–he was being built, brick by brick, by Rachel.
Sarah-the-lioness would be a realist; always encouraging but always grounded. Ray-Ray-the-squirrel never saw limits and she taught Bill to dream. Once he wrote a stage play about a dancer who left her husband for a stronger, gentler man. Ray-Ray read it, loved it, and promised to help him raise the money. They choreographed a dance together. She would be his lead. They would find a shitty little theater and self-promote their work and invite friends and Bill’s family. They even planned hors d’oeuvres for the event and Bill called his parents and told them how far he’d come.
Five months into his six-month internship, Billy noticed that Rachel couldn’t lift her right arm. “Ry-Ry took a call at the dinner table tonight,” she said. “It was his buddy Chuck’s wife telling him she couldn’t reach him. So Ry-Ry–he talks with his fork–explains to her that he just left Chuck ten minutes ago, that Chuck took an extra shift and would be home late. End of story. But I know Ry-Ry didn’t see Chuck ten minutes ago. Hell, he’s been eating with me for twenty. And then he tells me Chuck’s off nailing some broad and that the construction crew is tighter than a wet wicker basket and sometimes they cover for each other. So I said there’ve been times when I called his coworkers looking for him, and they told me he’s working late, so where was he really? And he didn’t like me asking those kinds of questions, implying such silly things, so that’s when he tossed the dining-room table and hit me in the shoulder with the pan I cooked his pork with.”
It was in their nest that bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Ray-Ray sat on Bill’s lap and gave him his first hand-job and his first joint in the same night. “William,” she said, red and sequined from her chest to her pelvis with creamy skin caught in tight black fishnets. “I need to relax.”
The joint was never discussed. She never asked and he never mentioned that it was his first. She simply passed it to him, the end still imprinted with lipstick that matched her dress. Bill pressed it to his lips, took it in, and held it.
Ray-Ray stretched her legs and accidentally jabbed him in the side, then removed her mesh leggings. “When I get home tonight, he’s going to hit me.”
“How do you know that?”
“Becky heard from Tara that he’s at The Sandman. If he’s at The Sandman, he’s going to find a lady-friend. He’ll lie about having a wife, and when he’s finished and zipped and home, he’ll hit me. Doesn’t matter what I do.”
Bill remembered how cold Rachel seemed when she talked about Ry-Ry and accepted what she knew she couldn’t change. Bill longed to warm her, to kiss her thighs and bury his face between her legs, letting her melt in his arms with the knowledge that he would never hurt her; that she could be free with him.
From the way she was positioned on his lap, he could look in her eyes as she worked her hands in his pants like it was routine. When she grabbed him, she lifted her leg and placed her right foot on her left knee in a sultry triangle, opening and revealing herself to Bill. His fingers ran along the pressed diamond pattern imbedded in her thighs from the freshly removed fishnets; his thumb grazing fur as she squeezed and rubbed, but that was as far as his finger had the courage to go. Three minutes later he came and she cleaned up with an abandoned brassiere. At twenty-three she seemed a woman to him. Now, looking back, she was ever just a girl.
It’s always the details people remember most, even in tragedy. For Bill, it was the strawberry-blonde roots of Ray-Ray’s hair the night she left. Even the black dye–normally as dark as the theater’s wrought-iron accents–seemed faded.
She had a bruise. He touched it when they kissed. It was Ry-Ry’s special mark; his special fuck you; the result of another night in the arms of another woman.
“William,” is all she would ever say, the unique print of her forefinger pressing his lips, “I know.”
The night of that final bruise, Bill drove to Ry-Ry’s apartment and found him jaywalking from the complex to his car. When the cock-sucker crossed between the front bumper of Bill’s Toyota and the back of his own el Camino, he squinted and raised a hand to the headlights.
Bill accelerated. The car squealed, lurched forward, and pinned Ry-Ry’s legs between bumpers with a soft crunch.
Bill’s brow flushed and he rubbed his scalp with sticky palms as he left his truck and approached the screaming beast. “If you ever do it again, I’ll break your fucking arms,” he said.
For a a single, terrifying second, Ry-Ry stopped his string of obscenities and locked onto William with chaos in his flat eyes and anger in his construction-worker cheeks. “I’m going to kill her,” he growled, his grit teeth filling that smile, bright and yellow in the truck’s headlights. “I’m going to kill her.”
Bill hopped back in the driver’s seat and reversed his truck and the heaving mass of Ry-Ry dropped to the pavement.
When he returned to the theater, Rachel was already gone. She would never be back again.
He finished the last week of the internship alone in their nest, scribbling feelings in notebooks and sucking down cig after cig until a man dropped three small bags filled with a variety of substances in his lap.
“Sympathy gift,” he said. “I know you’re missing her.” The man was Charlie Arson, Rachel’s dealer; a tiny guy who bulged from neck to heels after a two-year stint in Stateville for armed robbery and arson. (When Bill caught fragments of that whispered name between dancers, he assumed “Arson” was a nick-name. After several years of quality time with Charlie, he discovered the name was merely a coincidence.)
Bill recognized the weed, but not the brown shredded chips or the vile of clear liquid. In his grief he appreciated the gifts but was afraid to use what he didn’t understand. But the right people taught him and sold him more. And with “more” came a quilted patchwork of relationships that wound and twisted backstage and through bars and inside friends-of-friend’s Chicago lofts where pillows were used as furniture and the floors became home. The women rotated endlessly through Bill’s life, each one a new experience, a new flavor… but ultimately they were the same.
They all wore their mesh stockings too loose.