Divine Inspiration

She preferred fantasy to reality. The modern world bored her to tears. Marguerite was a Parisian girl at heart. Growing up in a run down midwestern town, she had always gravitated to all things French. She’d spent hours and hours at the local library, devouring French culture, history and fashion. At thirteen, she began styling her hair like a coquette, and sewing her own clothes. Her Grandma’s basement was a treasure trove full of all sorts of fabrics, buttons, and best of all, old photos. She didn’t know much about Grandma Ceci, because she had died days before Marguerite was born. The story went that she had grown up just outside of Paris, and had studied to be a couturier at the most prestigious design school in the “City of Lights”. At 18, she left her studies to marry an American military man, and relocated to this tiny midwestern city, where she quickly acclimated to American life, and focused on raising a small family. No matter how much Marguerite pressed her mother, she really couldn’t find out more about her Grandma. From the old photos and items found in dusty boxes, she pieced together a life imagined.

These days, Marguerite lives in New Orleans. She fell in love with the city on a weekend visit, and never went back to her small town. She lives in an apartment close to the French Quarter, and designs dresses that she sells on Etsy.  She’s been studying French for a while now and uses it as often as possible. Her entire apartment is filled with antiques found at thrift shops around town. An antique record player spins french ballads. She had her mother send all of the old photographs from her Grandma Ceci’s basement, which decorate the hallway entry. At night, she dreams of being in Paris with a dark-haired man. He wears a suit, pocket watch and felted hat. He takes her hand, pulls her close, and whispers to her to stay with him in forever. Her heart hurts as she watches him disappear behind a wall of thick icy fog lifting off of the Atlantic. The blast of a steamship’s horn wakes her abruptly, her damp cheek pressed into a pillow drenched with tears.

 

Liquidation

Gently pushing antique wire framed eyeglasses up the narrow bridge of his nose, Leonard inhaled deeply as he scoured the online estate sale listings. Selecting only the most upscale of neighborhoods, he perused photos of items until he found gold. Not just any gold, but liquid gold. Vintage liquor cabinets, bar carts, or wine cellars. Any of these would do. Making notes in a well-worn leather binder, he beamed with excitement at the possibilities that lay before him.

It was a peculiarly cool weekend in April that brought, to his delight, the advent of two simultaneous sales. Conveniently, they were happening within a mile of one another, and both offered magnificent potential.

He took his time as he dressed in his lucky shirt. A burgundy silk button down with small domed gold buttons. It had been a well-received gift years ago from an older wealthy woman in Vegas, with whom he’d had a sordid affair. That was a lifetime ago, but he still associated the shirt with good fortune. Looking into the mirror, he combed back his silver hair with a bit of Brylcreem. Smiling with pride, he admired his thick tall pompadour. At least he still had a full head of hair, unlike most men of his age. He had taken good care of himself, considering the set backs life had thrown his way.

The walk-up apartment was small, but tidy, and dimly lit. Leonard prefered low lighting, as it camouflaged the ever evolving lines on his face. He had been quite a handsome man in his prime. He liked to believe that his striking good looks had only gotten more “intense” with time. Picking up a bottle of his best French cologne, he dabbed a bit along his neck and wrists. Pausing to inhale the rich fragrance, Leonard closed his eyes, and sighed with delight. This particular scent always took him back to his days in Paris. He reached for a well-worn antique leather binder, along with his keys, checked his watch, and bolted down the hall. Locking the door with a deep breath, he turned on pointy black ostrich leather boots, and darted down the stairs. As he exited the building onto the avenue, a crisp breeze lifted his already tall pompadour to new heights. He liked the attention it attracted from the ladies passing by. He moved swiftly towards his destination, filled with sweet anticipation.

2799 Willow Avenue was the first stop. It was a delapidated old mansion. Apparently, the family had lived there for generations. However, a sudden tragedy had forced them to give up the property. Leonard entered the foyer, barely acknowledging the woman who greeted him. Making a beeline for the dining room, he headed straight for the majestic bar against the far wall. Dark mahogany carved wooden shelves stood fully stocked with various bottles, and a massive collection of glassware. Leonard rudely pushed past a few fellow shoppers who were admiring a set of club chairs. He rushed behind the bar, with a cardboard box in hand, laid it on the bar counter, and started filling it with bottles. He did so methodically, shelf by shelf. When the box was full, he shouted out to whoever was listening, “box, box. I need another box! I’m in a rush here!” A couple of boxes were tossed in his direction, and he rapidly filled them with all of the remaining bottles on the shelves. Leaving it barren, only glassware and a few sundry items remained. At checkout he tried his best to be charming, and after some bargaining, got it all for a steal. Since he wanted to go on to the next sale, he asked if he could store the purchased items there until his return. The saleswoman noticeably rolled her eyes, mumbling, “of course Leonard, of course.” He smirked with satisfaction.

56 Hummingbird Drive turned out to be a much smaller home, but still very fine, and just waiting for his entrance. Again, Leonard rushed in, took a hard right, and went straight to the small bar by the fireplace. Not as grand as the first location, he still found 14 bottles of alcohol, ranging from gin to a fine cognac, albeit slightly cloudy looking. He boxed these up, and took them to the check out. Again, he sweet talked the ladies with false compliments and his flashing smile, and got the entire stash for a song. He took the goods out the door, and headed back to the first location. At this point it was far too much to carry, so he called a cab, and waited outside with the 3 boxes of bottles.

Finally home, he lugged the boxes one by one up the stairs, and dragged them into his humble abode. Taking out the bottles, Leonard lined them up, one by one, on the narrow kitchen counter, organizing them by types of liquor. He smiled with delight as he examined some of the rarer items he had scored. When he was finished, he picked up an old fashioned rotary phone and dialed. His hand trembled as he stuttered into the mouthpiece, “Hello, hello, Lucia? It’s me, Leonard. I’ve got a haul for you.” He paused, listening intently to the voice on the other end of the line. He ran his fingers thru his hair, smiling and closing his eyes. “Yes, yes, I got the White Chartreuse you’ve been searching for.” He held is breath for her reaction, which was better than he had anticipated. He laughed out loud with excitement. “Yes, yes, I’ll bring it downtown, along with the gins, some good ones, I think, as well as a fine bourbon. I did you proud, ma’am. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.” He hung up the phone and started whistling aloud as he sorted through the bottles, selecting 7, then after a pause, adding an 8th. He placed them carefully into one of the smaller boxes, and headed out once again. Leonard rode in the cab down towards the avenues, hand steadying the box of bottles next to him, which he had secured with the seatbelt. It was getting dark by now, and the rain had started to fall. The streets shone black and slick ahead. As they reached the run down warehouse district, he yelled at the cabby to pull over in front of a dimly lit façade. “Here! Here! Stop, this is it, pull over in front of this one!” On the dark wall, a tiny window appeared, lit with a soft red light. He paid the driver, got out, and carried the box up a few steps. At the window a woman’s face peered at him. She told him to come in, and suddenly a door opened.

As he entered, it was so dark, he could barely see. Soft bass music drifted from afar. As his vision adjusted, he saw the woman motioning him to follow her down a long corridor. They entered into a lounge with a long bar, lined with empty stools. A tall thin woman with a platinum bob approached Leonard. Wearing a shimmering white velvet gown, she looked almost ghost-like. As she got nearer, it was clear that she was much older than he had first thought. She reached out a well-manicured hand,  and introduced herself with a raspy low voice. “I’m Lucia. Finally, we meet face to face. Let’s see what you’ve brought for me.” She peered into the box, and motioned him over to the bar. Reaching inside, she carefully unpacked the various bottles, and lined them up along the spotless counter. They sat side by side on the black leather barstools, and he waited patiently, as Lucia examined each bottle with a keen eye. As she traced a long blood red lacquered  fingernail over the labels, it was evident that she was pleased. She gasped at the last bottle, the coveted white chartreuse. He smiled, “I told you, didn’t I?” “Yes, you did well, my friend. You will be compensated generously, and I will await your next delivery with eager anticipation.”

With that, she reached down into a small purse slung low around her slender hips, and pulled out a roll of cash. She discreetly counted out two thousand dollars in hundred’s twice; then once again for good measure. She placed the rolled up bills in his outreached hand. He curled his fingers around the warm money, and tried to remain cool and collected, even though he was trembling with excitement. She took his arm and offered him a drink. “Perhaps a glass of champagne to celebrate the occasion?” Why not, he thought. After a pause, her eyes lit up as she caressed the rare liquor sitting in front of them, “perhaps we should share a thimble of the white chartreuse instead!” He agreed, and she called over to the barmaid to bring her a shot glass. She cautiously opened the beautiful vintage bottle and gingerly poured a minuscule amount of the pale yellow liquor. It glowed phosphorescent in the low light. She lifted the glass towards Leonard’s lips, and he took a tiny sip, savoring the heady herbal flavors. She followed his lead, closing her eyes as she took a delicate taste, her full pink lips barely touching the glass. Suddenly, Leonard’s breath got caught in his throat, and she too began to gasp for air. Her eyes grew large with fright, and he stared back at her unable to speak.. Simultaneously, he slumped forward onto the bar face first, and Lucia slid elegantly down to the floor, a pool of white velvet spreading out from her silhouette. The barmaid and another girl ran over, but it was too late. Both of the bodies lay there motionless and pale in the dim light. The barmaid picked up the bottle of white chartreuse, took a cautious whiff from the opening, and gasped. A toxic fume caused her to choke. Apparently, it had been refilled with poison. In fact, shortly after this tragic happening, there was a report that the Willow Avenue estate owner had indeed poisoned his wife, shortly before killing himself. Although the source of the poison was never determined, it was strongly suspected that he had given her a toxic cocktail, moments before her sudden death.

 

 

 

Dame of Delray

Behind a crumbling façade, the grand old hotel still retained a regal quality. Gilded details glimmered through the faded layers of peeling paint, providing a glimpse into the glamorous past of this faded beauty. Precariously positioned on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the vast Atlantic Ocean, the structure stood strong. A relic, with a once glorious past. The grounds around the massive property now overgrown and wild, had at one time been well-manicured gardens, thick with flora and fauna. An enormous empty swimming pool full of dried leaves, revealed patches of intricate mosaic tile work. Mossy cracked statues of cherubs stood guard. Long ago, this oasis had sparkled, surrounded by alabaster Italian fountains spouting arched streams into the crystal blue water. Remnants of a small stage stood at the far end of the pool. This was where bands would play and guests would dance, often late into the night.

Built in the late 1800s, in its early years, the Delray had been a mecca for the rich and famous. It hosted brokers, movie stars, as well as royalty from around the world. Of course, entourages and wannabes soon followed, looking to piggyback on the excesses of the times. The hotel was notorious for its glamorous and wild parties. Rumors were kept quiet, but it was common knowledge that people of a certain caliber were allowed to get away with everything and anything. The liquor ran freely during prohibition, and alongside gambling, there were plenty of beautiful girls brought in for the single men, and practically anything else imaginable could be requested for a price. It was said that if you could dream it, you could have it at the Delmar. The heady mix of money, alcohol and cocaine, alongside an “anything goes” attitude, allowed for many scenarios to unfold. Countless payoffs and favors had been done to keep most of the stories hushed, however quite a few scandals of debauchery and bad behaviour frequently slipped out into the city papers, which the masses ate up like cake.

The golden years came to a screeching halt with the crash of the stock market in 1929. Party time was over, and the guests stopped coming. The hotel, like so many of its breed, chose to accommodate long-term tenants in order to maintain the expenses of running the place. Initially, quite a few units were rented, and the hotel managed to maintain a skeleton staff along with groundskeepers. The tenants enjoyed a comfortable life at the Delray, with full service at their disposal. Gradually, as the economy worsened, most of the staff was let go, other than some maintenance workers who lived on the premises. The gardens were left unkempt and the pool drained. Finally, most of the tenants moved out, leaving only a handful of very elderly ladies and a few eccentrics.

As the years passed, the hotel continued to become more dilapidated. A series of severe storms wrecked the façade, and the gardens became unrecognizable. Ivy grew over some of the shuttered windows, and the place was rumored to be haunted. Finally, of the 200 rooms, only 4 were rented. One to a wealthy TB patient on her deathbed, quarantined to the far quarters with her 24 hour nurses, and three other suites, which belonged to a tenant named Lena, who resided at the opposite end of the property. Twice a month, an order of basic food and supplies was delivered. Other than that, the residents were left in isolation. The maintenance staff had long gone, and if anything was broken, it stayed that way.

At night, from afar, the place stood desolate, appearing vacant, except for the occasional glow of light on one end or the other.The darkened halls of the hotel creaked. Floorboards had absorbed years of humidity from the ocean air. The atmosphere was stagnant and musty, carpets mildewed and dank. The TB patient never left her room, and the only activity on that end of the hotel property was that of nurses trading shifts.

On the other end of the hotel, however, it was another story. The Cabana suites consisted of the entire southwest corner of the hotel, which was cliff side with ocean views. Back in the day, this had been the most luxurious section, and was reserved for only the most elite of guests. It had a private entrance, windows facing the Atlantic, and a courtyard view from the bedroom. Albeit, now the view was of defunct fountains, overgrown weeds, and debris.

The interior of the suite, however was immaculate. The only light which ever seemed to be on was a peach tinted lantern in the bedroom. This was where Lena spent most of her time, other than the delivery days, when she would meet the truck at the door and allow them to bring her orders into the kitchen.

In her room, she had a giant pink lace canopy bed, with silk satin sheets and scalloped shams. A white mink fur throw finished the look.

The vanity was well stocked and she would sit there for hours, carefully applying her makeup, eyelashes, and lastly selecting a wig for the occasion. There was a calendar on the table, with a special event inked in for each day. Obvious holidays and a lot of invented ones. In fact for Lena, each day was a holiday. Today was the special “Cruiseship Day”, and she dressed in an all white ruffled top with flared high-waisted pants. As she stood in front of the full-length mirror, Lena squinted to see her reflection. She scowled at herself and tied a scarf over her long blonde wig. Quickly, she picked up a pair of sunglasses and put them on as well. Reapplying her bright red lipstick, she smiled. Smiling revealed her missing tooth, so she pursed her lips together in a pout.

Smoothing the hair down, she turned in the mirror, and began a conversation with an invisible man. “Darling, I do think we should have brought more champagne. Don’t you?” “What is it?” “Oh, my love, you shouldn’t have.” Lena reached down to pick up a diamond bracelet off of the dresser, and gently put it on over her white glove on the left arm. “It’s absolutely spectacular, my darling! How did you know?”

“I shall wear it to my performance this evening! But I must change because the bracelet deserves my sequins gown! Tonite is our night my love!”

With this, Lena walked to the massive walnut armoire, opening the double doors to reveal a cache of gowns, sparkling in the low light. It looked as though every color of the rainbow was inside. She extended her white-gloved hand, selecting a white crystal encrusted gown, which weighed so much, she needed to use both arms to carry it. Laying it on the shiny pink bed, she smiled. “Ah yes, this is the one. The most exquisite of all. It is our special occasion, isn’t it!” With that, she removed her gloves, laying them on the bed next to the gown. Unbuttoning the sailor pants, she let them slide to the floor, carefully stepping out of them onto the Persian carpet. She unbuttoned the blouse and threw it over a slipper chair in the corner. Now naked, she covered her breasts, with a coy smile “please my love, you must not look.”, as she leaned towards the heavy gown, lifting it to maneuver the heavy beaded fabric over her head. Catching the armhole, she slipped into it quite gracefully, and managed to zip it up along the side. It fit like a glove. She turned to look in the mirror, smiling. Adjusting the wig, she looked around the room. “Oh, there it is, my love.” She walked over and picked up a long veil from a small table. Back at the full-length mirror, she placed the veil on her head, smoothing the blonde waves down to one side. She put the long white gloves back on and smiled. “I’m ready, my pet, you can look now.” She shyly looked down at the ground. As she raised her head, she caught another glimpse of herself in the mirror under a brighter beam of light. She gasped at the sight. The delusion momentarily broken, she shrieked in horror. What she saw was an old woman, missing a tooth, bony and weathered. Her heart beat faster, and her breathing got heavier. Panic set in. She needed air. Fresh air. Lena headed for the door, and pushed it open against the powerful wind. Hurling herself outside, she fell on the ground. The rain pelted her face and her dampened veil clung to her skin. She crawled towards the cliffside. The violence of the ocean below called her name. She ripped the veil from her eyes and threw it over the ledge. Somehow, Lena gathered the strength to sit up. She unzipped the gown, pulling it over her head. It fell over in a heap next to her shivering body. She pushed the dress away from her towards the Atlantic. A sudden gust took it away. The white wedding gown flew up into the misty night air, momentarily pausing as if begging for a second chance, before vanishing into the abyss below.

Lena lay there naked, yet she felt reborn. She managed to get up and make her way back to the bedroom. Gathering the huge mink throw about her, she used a tissue to wipe the lipstick away. She put on a long cashmere robe and ran herself a bath. As the tub filled with warm water, Lena laid out her clothes for the next day. A modest skirt and sweater, along with a hat, gloves, and a wool  coat. It was time. Time to move on.