Thanks to my Editors - Gandalf4217 & Fuzzywuzzy
It was nearly 3 a.m. in the morning, and from the sound of the fighting going on next door, I realized that I wouldn't be getting any sleep soon. I gave up and got out of bed, got dressed and went back downstairs to the piano in the small bar area. If the past was any experience, I'd find out what was going on quite soon enough. Sure enough ten minutes later, she came downstairs into the semi-darkened empty bar where I was softly playing the piano, pulled up a bar stool next to me and laid her forehead right against the top.
"Déjà vu, all over again ... isn't it". She sadly said with her eyes full of tears. I laughed weakly and gave her a vaguely cheerful smile and gently touched her arm.
"Well, I guess it's good that if you have to tell your troubles to the piano player, there's an advantage to at least having a piano player already available that knows your name and most of your problems. A real time saver, it is that way!" I stopped my playing, I was just running random chords trying to pick out a new melody anyway, and added softly, "It's all over now for good this time, isn't it Elizabeth?"
She kept her head down on the piano and didn't look up, but managed a "Yes, I really think it is this time".
We said nothing more to each other for a good long while, and I softly played for her a few old show tunes that she had once requested from me another early morning a long time ago. Well it seemed like a long time anyway ... nearly forever, but actually it was only last month on that cruise from Athens, but let me try and explain the story from its very beginning.
My name is Saul, but most of my music friends call me Smiley. I'd been in the music business for nearly twenty-five years since I had made my first recording on an already obsolete shellac 78-rpm record in 1961 at the age of 17. I've mostly played piano or keyboards, and got my big career start as a studio or session musician for other artists just as the rock and roll explosion of the 1960's took off. I had developed a good reputation of being able to learn a song in just one take and play exactly what the record's producer was looking for (usually while the drug addled band member I had replacing looked on). My name became well known in west coast session circles and I was soon in constant demand in the recording studio and even occasionally as a temporary replacement band member or an additional backup musician for large touring bands and I worked steadily into the late 1970's. I never got rich this way, but I stayed busy and earned far more than I could easily spend.
As the stadium rock era grew, the demand for computer electronics and synthesizers grew, and there became less work for old piano dogs like me. I managed enough odd day jobs doing over-dubs for second rate and worse bands that didn't rate the normal full production package to keep the food on my table and keep up the payments on the seaside house I'd bought in Marin County when times had been good. I also played with several Bay Area retro 'Dinosaur' bands full of "B-Team" guys just like me enough to keep the fun alive and get an occasional decent paycheck. Unfortunately as the 1980's began I found myself working a little bit less each year and sometimes had to teach music part-time to keep all my financial wheels steady on the road. The taxes on that beachfront house were starting to kill me!
That was my biggest blessing - that I had been relatively smart with my money and had put away nearly half of what I had ever earned when times were good and the paychecks nice and fat. The problem was my investments weren't paying off particularly well yet. For 20 years, I had been buying up the music rights for long forgotten bands, one-hit wonders, and other relics of vintage music history that no one seemed to care about. Certainly the major record companies didn't seem to care, and rarely ever raised a feeler about repurchased lapsed rights to antique and very obsolete talent they considered had little if any modern reissue value.
In those days I was a mad prophet still howling in the wilderness. I had seen the future, CD's, and thought that someday, if they became cheap enough to produce, vintage recording fanatics would want a modern "newly remastered" CD reissue rather than rely on an increasing rare slab of worn vinyl from a 1950's reissue or the insanely fragile and scratchy original shellac from the 1920's or 30's. Maybe someday, but the demand was not there quite yet. For now I could still afford to wait for my ship to someday sail in.
It sailed in sooner than I expected! Well, not that ship, but another one nearly as good.
In the middle of the night one early summer's day in 1982, I got an overseas call from an old friend Randy in the UK music business (naturally he'd forgotten all about the ten hour time difference from Greece to California). He had been mostly working as an agent these days, and he had been landed a plum job opportunity that required at least "B+" grade talent, but was in a jam. One of the major Aegean cruise lines had contracted for piano player to handle a main lounge show every night. He had contracted for an artist to handle the gig with 3 Gold records to his credit from the early 1970's, but was definitely on a steep track downwards nowadays. The guy had disappeared with the travel money advance and hooked up again with his old heroin fixer, and was now very much out of commission.
Randy needed someone on a flight to Athens "yesterday" and if I would just say "Yes" my plane ticket would be waiting for me at the airport, and I would get the star treatment for a few months.
Sounded like fun to me, there was just one catch. I couldn't sing, nearly not a lick. Sort of like Grace Slick, I only have a musical range of about three notes, but instead of being able to shatter glass, my voice was like the rumble of granite rubbing together. I could manage a bass backup for a vocalist without embarrassing myself, but I was no singer. That was why I had never released a record with my name on it since that one side on 78-rpm shellac in 1961.
Randy thought fast and said he knew of a girl that was probably available to accompany me. "Edna would be perfect! She's kind of a 'throwback', like you - she's got a fetish for "Hot Dance" blues and jazz music from the 1920's and 1930's." Wow, that did sound like my kind of singer!
I agreed to the more than fair compensation deal and we reviewed the travel arrangements. I turned off the gas and electricity at home, wrote a check to my mortgage banker that nearly emptied my account, but this would keep my bills paid while I was gone. Then I made a few calls to friends to let everyone know I was out-of-town, and then started to pack.
I needed one bag of "performance" clothes, including formal dress for dinner, and some odd casual pieces and I stuffed my largest suitcase with vinyl. Old, rare nearly one of a kind stuff that I knew, loved and could play by ear or by heart and that Edna just might have the inclination to sing. Every one, reissues of old Depression era 78's when Jazz, Blues and Country sounds intermixed into the hottest music of the pre-Big Band era. Naturally, the original 78's were too fragile for this sort of travel, but most of what I wanted had been reissued on vinyl during the 1950's.
Loaded for bear (and Edna) I caught my flights and sixteen hours later was sitting in the cruise line main office in Athens, waiting for Edna so we could officially sign in as part of the 'talent staff' for the cruise. With a name like Edna, I was fully expecting a mature woman twenty years my senior. Not a problem for me as long as she had the pipes for the job, but I was surprised to discover that "Edna the Throwback" was a young tasty morsel not yet out of her twenties (28, I later found out - almost 10 years younger than me!).
We exchanged greetings, signed our paperwork and got escorted to the ship's Talent Coordinator, our boss for the gig, who gave us our work schedule (2 shows daily), and then showed us around a bit and got us placed into our staterooms.
Jet lagged or not, we got to work nearly right away, I grabbed Edna from her stateroom (next to mine) and we went straight to the lounge to see what kind of act we could scrape together at nearly the very last minute. We had less than 24 hours until our first show and we had no idea what we were going to do. Since Edna was going to be our voice and main attraction, I started by seeing what was in her repertoire. What wasn't! She knew all of the standards and show tunes, and could do any Cole Porter or Gershwin number in her sleep. We decided to keep our first lunchtime show light and airy and do that sort of Broadway and musical show tune stuff then.
We scribbled out a decent set list of 20 songs we knew we could both do 'cold' tomorrow and made out a secondary list of another 30 odd songs that we could definitely also do, but a practice or two beforehand would be advisable. We then settled down to the main problem, the big evening show. Fortunately, we were not the headlining "Main" evening show; there was a Parisian/Vegas style variety act with a cast of dozens that operated in the main showcase theater next door. Our lounge might seat maybe two hundred or so, if folks were feeling friendly.
We banged around a few more ideas and started to develop the kernel of a program. Neither of us was crazy about doing modern pop covers, and even the thought of doing older 60's covers wasn't terribly appealing either. This was supposed be "fun" for us, and the thought of singing even the classic songs of the Beatles for three months straight had zero appeal. 1950's Torch songs? Maybe occasionally, but that wasn't much fun for her, she did too much of that sort of thing already at the clubs and lounges back home. That left us with retro; stuff so old and obscure that we could easily make it sound brand new. It was true that she did love old Depression-era "Hot Dance", and this was exactly the sort of material that I had brought with me in my big suitcase full of LP's.
Grabbing her by the hand, and we ran back to my cabin and grabbed my suitcase of vinyl and then commandeered the Disco room for the next eight straight hours going album by album picking out songs we both knew and selecting out her favorites. Using this as a guide, we worked out an evening set list that the likes had not been heard of since Fats Waller died in 1943. We were exhausted, but happy, and with one final stop at the costume shop (every cruise ship has one) we were ready for our grand debut!
We didn't get much rest before our first show, but we did "ok" for our luncheon debut program of Show Tune favorites and got nice applause. Having had no time to practice together we did not yet fit together like a pair of gloves, but no one but another professional would have noticed where we both had screwed up in several places. We grabbed some lunch, and managed a few private hours in our lounge and practiced what we felt might be our rough spots in our program. Feeling vaguely encouraged, we even managed to grab a few hours sleep (separately) before our show began at 8 p.m., and after grabbing a few extra last second props as we could find them.
When we had first started to plan for this show, I had asked Edna one simple question, if she could have been any singer in the past - who would she have been? Her answer floored me, "A twisted sick combination of Annette Hanshaw and Victoria Spivey", she replied. Oh my God! Just what had Randy unleashed on me? The sheer insanity of the possible combination of the greatest female songbird (Hanshaw) of the 1920's combined with the wailing wicked whorehouse 1930's blues sounds of Spivey set my head spinning. But there were possibilities here, oh yes!
As the stage lights came on up, our meager audience (perhaps only thirty folks) were initially surprised to see us, or rather how we were dressed. The stage (to the best of our limited time and available stage set items available in storage) looked like everyone had gone back in time and back into old-time New Orleans "Storyville". I was appearing as the whorehouse piano player, and Edna was just one of the girls who was there to entertain folks before conducting "business upstairs" later.
We started right off with a bang, an old favorite Fats Waller tune "Ain't Misbehavin'" that we could both do in our sleep, and which certainly had been played in old Storyville. At the end of each song Edna and I exchanged suggestive banter, but we otherwise continued without a break between songs and without pausing for applause. Our songs and our banter got hotter and wilder.
Our audience was initially very puzzled, but became more and more entertained. This was something "new" and not the comfortable retreads of popular cover songs that they were expecting. These were cover songs all right, but from their grandparent's era instead, spiced up and presented as hot as we could cook it. Edna was the best pure Blues/Jazz singer I had ever heard!
By the time our show ended at 10:15 (we had run a little over our time to no one's complaint), there wasn't a seat left in our lounge (and darn little standing room either). Amid cries for an encore, we tried an impromptu version of Victoria Spivey's & Lonnie Johnsons "Black Snake Moan". We butchered it horribly, but no one noticed - we got it right the next day, and it became our show stopping closer for the rest of the season. We left to a full standing ovation.
Our boss the ship's Talent Coordinator was confused. He didn't understand our act at all, but liked the crowd reception to it and so, for now, our jobs were safe. He also promised to get us a prop painter to do things up a bit better for our next shows, which did indeed happen first thing the next day.
Each show just seem to get better, and by our fourth night at sea on this first cruise (this was a seven day cruise of the Aegean that visited most of the popular islands) we were considered the "must see act" of the ship and there was standing room only even for our tame luncheon show. Nearly every morning before our lunch show, we played some more LP's on a borrowed crewman's old portable player in my cabin and added at least a solid new song or two to try out each day. Afternoons we rehearsed songs and practiced our salacious and witty cross banter. Soon we had a working play list of nearly 100 vintage songs, spiced up and ready for perversion at our eager hands.
By the end of that first cruise, I knew I was falling in love with Edna, and by the end of the second week I could barely stand the times that I was not together with her in the same room, beside her. One night, just after the end of our show (now usually close to 11 p.m.), we were taking our evening deck stroll to wind down before bedtime and without thinking or comment I took her hand in mine. She did not object.
We stopped a few moments later at the stern to look out on the Aegean ocean in its moonlit star filled beauty our lips somehow accidentally bumped and before I could help myself, I was kissing her. I pulled back a little disconcerted, the last thing I wanted to do was upset our work relationship and make her feel uncomfortable being with me. Instead she pulled me back close and with the moon in her eyes she smiled.
"Well it's about time, I was wondering how many real "suggestions" I was going to have to make in our act before you got the hint. Shut your mouth now "Big Daddy" (my stage name in our act) and come up with me to my room upstairs ... we've got some 'business' to conduct".
Oh, how we did! Neither of us ever slept alone again the rest of that cruise, and we made a deal with management to turn in our two cabins for one slightly larger one - with a balcony! I knew then that management loved our act and wanted to keep us happy.
On the last cruise of our summer contract, we asked the Ships Captain to marry us, and it was the happiest day of our lives together. We happily did the next years Summer and soon even the Winter cruise schedules, spending the remaining six months of the year at my (now our) home in Marin near San Francisco.
We started trying our act at home, at small Bay Area clubs and soon built a slowly growing but rabid fan base of weirdos, misfits, shellac fiends, and 'musical contrarians' and met many old (and new) lovers of 78-era recordings. Our play list eventually reached about 1000 songs and we could now do shows for a week straight without a song ever being repeated. Our cruise pay, doubled and yet doubled again, and we attracted numerous European repeat customers who would only book their cruise if it were confirmed that "Edna and Smiley" were going to be performing. Instead of a two hundred seat lounge, we could (and did) fill larger halls and sometimes we were even billed as the main act.
We were doing great financially, and Edna wholeheartedly agreed with my unconventional "retirement plan" and our musical library of song "Rights" steadily grew.
Edna seemed a little weak and tired for the start of our Cruise season in the summer of 1986, but neither of us thought much about it at the time. We both thought the sun and sea would restore a little life to her, and it did, for just a little while, but she seemed to get continuously worse. The ships doctor seemed to think it was urinary tract related (she had a recent kidney stone attack a few months back), but his limited on-board equipment didn't show anything that seemed to be serious.
Edna seemed to get continuously worse and was now often in severe abdominal pain, the severity of which she hid from me, and took pain pills constantly to keep the show going. If I had realized just how bad the pain she was in was, I would quit for the season entirely and forced her to go home or into an Athens hospital. Instead we soldiered on and stayed right through to the end. When she had to sit for all of her final performances and looked so obviously in discomfort, it was obvious to everyone that she was very sick.
We left as flew home as fast as we could but the damage was already done, she was in final renal failure with internal infections that were devouring everything from her kidneys to her urethra. She died by painful inches in bed at our home, there was nothing the doctors could do for her. At her request, her ashes were scattered on the beach outside our back door. It was her favorite place to sit and think by herself and she especially didn't want her ashes decorating my fireplace mantle where she knew I would just sit and brood looking at them for the rest of my life. My loving wife knew me oh, so well.
I told Randy that my cruising days were done, but he had a slightly surprising alternative offer to make. Would I consider just performing "Piano Lounge" for a season? Less work (also less money, but not considerably so) and I wouldn't have to sing. I could just play sad piano songs at 2 a.m. in the morning for the insomniacs and the broken hearted crowd. I laughed and laughed at the thought of this and didn't quite say no. This was pretty much what I was already doing with my life these days so I figured I might as get paid for being miserable. I hadn't been handling life as a widower very well.
The plane tickets arrived a week later. Since I had never bothered to call and cancel, I somehow found myself on my annual flight to Greece for the start of the summer of 1987.
The new job wasn't nearly as taxing, and the Cruise Line management was delight to see my return. They had been genuinely sad at my loss, and they had even sent flowers for her memorial service. They let me set my own hours, but asked if I could play from at least 11 p.m. until 2 a.m. every evening.
I resisted the urge to throw myself overboard that first night as everything I saw, touched or did seemed to remind me of Edna; where we had met and fallen in love, but I forced myself into the new work routine and I found myself enjoying the freedom of just playing whatever I wished, when I wished, and soon was a constant sight at all hours of the day or night in the piano bar. My music became a mirror of my moods, surrounded by delighted little old ladies from London, Berlin or Paris, I could play old big band favorites or classical works. For folks of my generation I'd bang out pop songs without limit (often giving them little odd jazzy twists), and for the growing number of gay and lesbian guests ("Rainbow Cruises" were now starting to be en vogue) I could perform Show Tunes, Standards or soothing piano Jazz. Word spread that my late night playing was "different" I began to attract an eclectic crowd of admiring listeners.
I was surprised at the number of cruise guests that fondly remembered my act with Edna and were aghast that I had simply not replaced her with another singer. "The Show Must Go On!" and all that other nonsense. Even my old agent friend Randy agreed that Edna had been unique and he'd never heard another young singer that could have filled her shoes, and agreed with me that it was folly to even try.
Late at night in the early hours of the morning was when I missed Edna the most, and I usually played the blues, letting my piano do my mourning for me. I even began for the first time to start composing new material of my own. It didn't come easily, but for the first time in my musical career I felt like I had songs inside me yearning to be written. A voice, all of my own that was waiting to be expressed and by the end of the season I had at least five songs I was not ashamed to play in public, and more songs that I could see hints of waiting to be released from my subconscious.
I left that September a somewhat happier man ready to go on with life, and management was happy to continue my old two seasons a year, Summer and Winter work schedule. This provided both financial security and emotional comfort, and I was happy to accept this arrangement.
As I worked these cruises I found myself spending much more time with the ship's officers and crew and I started to make some friends. In the four years I had sailed with Edna we had been so absorbed with each other that we had not socialized especially much with others, and we had made relatively few close friends. I made especially close friends with a young cheerful Second Officer named Nereus, who came from a small island near Rhodes that I couldn't find on any of the first three maps I looked for it on. He taught me enough workable Greek that I wasn't a complete laughing stock when I spoke, and encouraged me to spend a day or two visiting his island after my current season was done, before flying home. He gave me the names and addresses of family who would "make me feel at home" and I promised to do so. His uncle ran the islands only tourist hotel and there was a boat that went every other day between there and Rhodes. I promised I would indeed go there for a visit.
I did, and enjoyed every second of my stay (only for a far too brief two days) and was made to feel just like a member of the family. Word had preceded me that I was not entirely an ugly ill-tempered brute with poor table manners, and a welcome party was staged for me that I think featured every suitable unmarried woman on the island. There were two good sized villages on the island; the larger one with the harbor and tourist hotel at the north end of the island. I kept my Greek at a minimum to avoid accidentally committing myself to any marriage proposals, but the feminine scenery was truly magnificent. At least half of the women would not have disgraced any Paris or Milan fashion runway, and the fact that topless (and even nude sunbathing) was an unremarkable common event on every beach only enhanced the appeal of the lovelies that I met.
I returned at four times a year from now on, and I usually stayed for at least a week or so at a time before and at the end of each Season of cruises.
Each visit it became more difficult for me to leave and I recommended the island (and its jovial hotelier) to every troubled young lady or couple that ever graced my piano at 3 a.m. unable to sleep due to relationship problems. From what I could tell, Dr. Saul's cure was nearly 100% fully effective, but it was also an addictive cure, "Uncle Hilarion's" hotel was becoming more popular every visit and sometimes I couldn't get my favorite room, the upstairs far NW corner, with it's perfect view of long unspoiled beaches and fantastic sunsets. The NE corner room next door, had the best view of the harbor and was nominally considered "the best" in the hotel, but I preferred my more peaceful view (and the far from irregular occurrence) of nicely bronzed or starting to tan bare breasts and asses that walked by or sunbathed within view of my appreciative eyes. There were said to be a few remaining classical period Greek ruins on the island but I never seemed to manage to find the time to go looking for them.
I did mention that there seemed to be no nudity taboo on this island, and the attitude towards casual (and even semi-public) sex was scarcely stricter - as long as the girls were 'of appropriate age'? Slowly I began to regain my lost sex life, which improved my disposition to no end. As Uncle Hilarion explained to me once in his excellent English while we were talking late one night during my second visit.
"We are a friendly happy island that has not known war or any great sadness for many, many generations. The troubles of other lands seldom come to our shores, and even the rule of the Ottomans, and the terribleness of this centuries great wars, never fully became our lamentations to share. Strangers sometimes come to us, but most strangers are like you, great life-long friends that we had not yet met for the first time. Our men have greeted you with open arms and kisses of friendship. Our women apparently with quite open legs and kisses of another kind entirely."
We laughed heartily, and embraced, and I think at that moment I truly became part of the "family" and I never referred to Hilarion ever again as anything other than "Uncle", and his loving wife Adelphe became my "Aunt"
It was the winter of 1989, when my then perfect streak of relationship repair counseling had its first failure. During one of my early December cruises, I was enjoying a rare night of semi-quiet in the piano bar at 4 a.m., with only a few very quiet listeners in the room when one Elizabeth Barrett slink into the bar and over to my piano, like a madwoman possessed. She looked for a tip jar and couldn't find one (I don't use one, I was being well paid - the highest of any other pianist on any ship of the Cruise Line, and didn't like to act "needy"). So she flung open her handbag and tossed down a Ten Pound note in front of me and said simply "Sad songs, and keep them coming." She then got a big glass of wine and sat down next to me with big sad eyes that looked pretty well teared out, and started to gulp her drink.
Sad songs I definitely knew a few of, but I sort of resented her intrusion and abruptness of manner, so I thought to myself that if she wanted sad, then sad was what she's going to get. For the next half hour or so I played the five saddest songs I knew of ... they were the ones I had composed that first year in my mournful early morning hours after my loss of Edna, and these songs were guaranteed when heard all together to make nearly anyone run to throw themselves overboard, or reach for a straight razor or long length of rope. My favorite of this lot "Gray Mists at Dawn" make Billie Holiday's singing of "Gloomy Sunday" sound like a church revival song.
At the end she looked up at me with wonder, and said "That was beautiful, what's that song called and who recorded it?" I told her the song names, and that they were my original compositions, and I wasn't quite yet ready to record them. My appraisal of her climbed considerably and I took a moment to get a fresh glass of wine myself (and brought a new one for her as well) and started to give her a proper look over.
The effort was well worth the time, she was a looker and maybe even a stunning beauty when her face wasn't all washed out from crying. She looked to be in her mid-late thirties, albeit extremely well preserved and superbly maintained. She had those 'one in a million' perfect set of cheekbones that would make other women hate her instantly on sight, and smallish, but very well presented breasts that even a baggy T-shirt couldn't completely disguise. The butt and legs looked considerably well above average as well, but I hadn't managed a suitable view of them yet while she sat wearing jeans. Emboldened by her smile and a glass of exceptional Northern Italian Cabernet, I volunteered three observations to her.
"I don't need three guesses to tell that your problem doesn't involved any vegetables or minerals, so your problem is most definitely "Animal. Also, don't chug down that glass of red, that's some decent stuff that needs to be sipped and appreciated, and speaking of appreciation, if your lover doesn't appreciate you they're obvious bughouse nuts then and you should run screaming in the opposite direction yourself, because you are a pearl amongst a very large herd of swine". I raised my glass to her and she burst out in a new revived torrent of waterworks. Slowly, a sip of wine at a time, I got her to tell me her story.
As I suspected she was a former fashion model, now retired to working on the other side of the camera as a Photography Editor for a famous international women's fashion magazine. She was American by birth, but had spent most of her modeling career in Europe, and now lived in London close to her magazines offices in Chelsea, but often still traveled. This particular trip for her was to manage a ship-board photo shoot of some swimwear and poolside loungewear that would be featured in the magazine later this coming summer (Fashion always works about 6 months in advance, in the wintertime they are planning summer, and vice versa).
Her lover, a much younger mid-20 something female model, was incorrigibly unfaithful to her and paraded her other lovers shamelessly before Elizabeth. This particular evening, Elizabeth had phoned back home to London to find that her lover Meg was having a wild lesbian orgy in their flat (and in Elizabeth's bed) and had made innumerable unkind and cutting remarks about the all of the delicious "younger and fresher cunt" she was getting.
Situation normal for their relationship, it seemed. Meg was constantly chasing and bedding girls of her own age in an endless cycle of non-stop partying, while Elizabeth desperately tried to hold the relationship together even by a thread, all the while her lover was rubbed her infidelities shameless into Elizabeth's face. I was frankly dismayed and horrified at this behavior, and at her willingness to continue to forgive and accept this continued treatment. Why hadn't she thrown the "ungrateful bitch out long ago?" Elizabeth had no answer.
We refilled our wine glasses another two times that early morning and talked until early breakfast was ready. I told her of my own recent loss and unhappiness and we became willing partners in misery. I offered my elbow to her, which she accepted and I escorted her to breakfast. She declined my offer of an escort to her room and we parted with a brief hug, but no peck on the check.
It was no surprise to find that she again joined me the next night by the piano when I started at about 10 p.m. after dinner. The bar was very crowded that night and I had several well-wishers and saw an old acquaintance or two (including a woman that seemed quite inclined to accept any offer of intimate companionship I might care to make). Elizabeth gave me a weak smile and settled into a large comfy leather club chair in a corner and settled into doing some irregular writing into a large spiral notebook in her lap, often with long pauses where she stared into the ceiling seeming lost for words or inspiration. By about 4 a.m. we were nearly alone, my amorous admirer had long since settled for a lesser (but more obtainable) piece of dessert. We had not managed to speak a word together until then, and she moved over and greeted with a refill of my wine glass (along with one for herself) and asked me to play my songs through for her again.
"Are you sure?" I asked, she seemed fairly upbeat in mood at the moment and my new songs were a bit depressing. She was VERY sure. "Play it Saul; you played it for her now play it again for me". A woman who loved Bogart! She was now ranking very high indeed in my estimations.
I played for them again for her, and she would sometimes have me stop and repeat a certain measure or two for her. She seemed at time to be mouthing some words I could not distinguish and often looked at what she had written in the notebook. Sometimes stopping to violently scratch out some passage and then she hurriedly wrote something new in its place. Under no circumstances would she allow me the slightest peek at what she had written. We spent the pre-dawn hours in this manner until breakfast time, after which she left to take her brief morning nap before the start of her photograph duties later that morning. This became our daily schedule for the remaining 4 days of this cruise. Sometimes she would take my hand gently now, and give me an occasional hug and a "goodnight" peck on the check after breakfast.
The afternoon of our scheduled return to Athens later that evening, I arose early (I normally slept days now and stayed up all night) to watch her at work with her photo shoots. On the job, Elizabeth seemed vigorous and supremely confident, always knowing what photography or lighting angles would improve the shoot and how each model should be best presented. She seemed to get along well with her photographer and the lighting and makeup crew. She also displayed a light touch with her models and seemed to know exactly how to get their best efforts. This was a completely different woman than the insecure seemingly beaten down by life woman I was spending my nights with. I remained well out of the way and just observed for several hours and don't think Elizabeth ever once noticed me.
During a short break when Elizabeth was talking with the lighting supervisor suggesting a new arrangement to reduce glare for the next poolside shot, I noticed that the photographer, a slightly older woman of about my age with wedding bands on her hand, came over to talk to me in a whisper, asking me if I was "Beth's new friend Saul?"
I admitted it, and she chatted with me quietly for a few minutes, praising me highly for "what I had done for Beth on this trip". I confessed, that I had done little other than provide her with a friendly ear to tell her troubles to, and while I might welcome a closer relationship, that decision was not mine to make. I would be just be her friend until she wanted or asked for anything more. The photographer, whose name was Jane, said she was an old friend of Elizabeth's and had shot her in her younger modeling days, and that she would add me to her prayers. She kissed me on the cheek and returned to prepare for the last final round of photography. Glowing slightly, I returned to my room for a nap before we docked, feeling strangely odd inside ... I knew then that I had started to fall in love with Elizabeth but that she was trapped in her loveless relationship, seemingly seeing no way to either fix it or able to abandon it.
I expected Elizabeth to come to the piano bar to say goodbye to me there (I still didn't know her stateroom number) but when disembarking began she did not appear. Eventually I found a ships officer that got the information for me that she and her photography crew had been among the first to disembark. I was heartbroken. Elizabeth had left without saying a goodbye.
This hurt me much more that I would have expected and I even felt on the verge of tears when I felt my officer friend Nereus, tapping my hunched shoulders. A woman it seemed had given him a large envelope before disembarking. I looked at it, and it was indeed from Elizabeth. I thanked Nereus who was in some hurry to disembark himself, he had a week of vacation now starting with the very personable companionship of a stewardess (or are they air hostesses now?) from Air France. They were heading home to the island for a bit of sun. Lots of bare sun from the sound of it - they had became engaged by the 4th day home, I heard to my delight upon his return later.
Inside Elizabeth's package was a short handwritten note, and five pages of carefully hand-written lyric sheets - one for each of my songs. They didn't just fit, they were perfect. Whatever muse had inspired her, her composition was flawless, there was not a single word that I could or would change. Together, the completed work became not just "pretty good" or even "great". They were a Masterpiece.
I knew now while I had loved Edna with all of my heart, that Elizabeth now seemed to possess some missing small but growing part of my soul. As I read her short written note to me, my despair became near overwhelming.
"Dearest Saul, I cannot tell you how much the recent hours of your life that you have shared with me have meant, or how deeply I sincerely regret that we can no longer share even the small pieces of our lives together that we have over this last week.
I am resolved to not abandon all hope yet for my current relationship but will try and value and incorporate as much of your advice as I can. I miss your selfless companionship already.
I'm not sure if we will ever meet again, but I will remember you always - and wish things (many things) had been different.
- Beth -
I brooded for several weeks in utter misery and at length composed a short reply letter to her address to her London office. She had attached one of her business cards with her address, but the phone number had been scratched out.
"To My Dear Troubled Elizabeth, I would be the last man alive to obstruct or interfere in the affairs of any happy couple or to offer them unwelcome advisements, but should you feel in the need to take a vacation for the purpose of repairing a damaged heart or a troubled relationship I can wholeheartedly suggest this certain island hotel where you and yours would be welcomed as family.
Should you wish to also renew the acquaintance of a certain old tired piano player, the fine hotelier whose card I have enclosed is well acquitted with my scheduled comings and goings, so I could welcome you or not, as your needs, inclinations and as the particular circumstances might dictate.
I wish for you every joy and future happiness, and know that I think of you only with fondness, and no regrets.
- Saul -
There was nothing more I could or should say. I mailed the letter but received no reply, but I hardly expected any.