••• The International Writers Magazine - Our 20th Year: A New York Story
Norah & Noel
(The Phone rings…)
“Hello… Noel?” Urged the caller.
“What’s up Jim…? Noel responded.
"Where are you?" Jim asked.
“Just pulling out of the 9th Ave Garage…” Noel confirmed.
“Come down and meet me at the Village Vanguard (silence). Can you make it?” Jim asked a bit excited
“What’s going on? What do you have…?” Noel asked, showing little interest.
“Can’t tell, just meet me there.” Jim said when the call dropped.
“Wait, wait… typical Jim!” Noel bawled, ticked off!
It was almost 5pm on a Friday evening and Noel was heading to Kennedy Airport avoiding the Midtown Tunnel facing heavy shadow traffic both ways. Noticing Greenwich Avenue ahead, he quickly decided to take Jim’s -no clue- offer. “I am heading that way anyway…” he reckoned with a sigh.
He got there in no time. A car was pulling out of a spot while he eyeballed the signs restrictions, noticing he had about 30 minutes left on this area, “half an hour it is then” he thought. He walked briskly following the soft sound of a piano playing; a familiar tune he knew, but not sure from where.
He checked the billboard without reading it and walked in. Jim was not in sight; an acquaintance spotted Noel from the back, and making eye contact mimicked a silent “Jim will be back in a minute” tapping on his watch. Noel thanked him with a stark nod, while whispering “nothing ventured, nothing gained” and headed out to the entrance looking over his shoulder at the stage which he couldn’t quite see from his stand; the place was crowded that night, but before the door hit his back Noel heard a familiar voice over the sound system, followed by a short laughter.
“Norah” he voiced. “That’s where the tune is from… Gees! ” He concluded.
“Yeah that’s Norah alright” while a woman standing by the entrance, said “Isn’t she great?” not expecting an answer, without even looking at him. Noel vacillated for a second as the women slipped in. He was visibly annoyed by the intrusion, feeling guarded, as if someone was watching him, he walked closer for a better view of the stage, not knowing why he was there, when his phone pinged. It was Jim texting.
“What do you think? Sorry I had to go, have fun!”
Noel took a discreet deep breath checking his watch.
“Time flies when you don’t want to,” he thought feeling hesitant.
That woman at the piano was Norah definitely –he reckoned- although he only caught a sight of her unique physique; he was certain.
“This is Norah in a pink fetishist dress like no one would… Agh!… I’ve got to go!”
He cut short his daydream. “What am I thinking? …The heck with you Jim!” he spewed, walking underhanded to the bar area to check the stage, as she ended her performance, people cheered and clapped, and she disappeared in the crowd. A moment later he spotted her by the service area facing down digging in her purse; when she casually looked up catching a sight of Noel, peeking rapidly twice at his image on the bar’s mirror. They gazed at each other as if they were the only two in the place. She slowly turned, bringing the back of her hand to her face, timidly in disbelief, to let go a quirky “Noel!” Both cut through the crowd reaching out for each other. She laid her cheek on his chest and they embraced for a few seconds. He quickly realized that everybody was watching, locked on them both, but in a conscious move he made his best to ignore them.
“I arrived late last night at La Guardia - she uttered in an apologetic tone - I was reaching for my phone to call you!” She said looking into his eyes…” I was going to call you after the first show. See?” She added, making the sign of a phone to her face pretending to be funny.
“How are keeping on Norah?” he said languidly, being aware again that all eyes were on them.
“Busy as always Noel…and you?”
“Well, it’s been two years since we’ve seen each other” Noel said implying there was a lot going on since then. “What’s your schedule” He asked. “I have a couple of commitments ahead for the next two weeks. How did you know that I was here?” Pouting her lips in a cute way, intending to pull his tongue “I don’t know – Noel said- you’ll have to ask Jim” (not answering her question)
“Jim Fitz?” she asked.
“Who else? Jim called me about an hour ago…gee! I have to go” Noel said looking at his watch.
“Wait, Noel, sit down for a minute and talk to me, I have been thinking about you lately. I could have gone to Texas, and then Vegas instead”
Noel brought his 6’3” height at eye level with Norah’s as she turned to greet a couple of people calling her name.
“Norah girl! Good to see yah! We were expecting to catch up with you in Austin! Weren’t we hon?" The man said nodding.
“Oh yes! Next month that is… ah…check my schedule on line, will you guys? Thank you!” She said turning back to Noel’s attention who was showing now a blank stare, which she didn’t seem to notice, as she continued talking; her lips were moving without a sound; Noel’s thoughts were somewhere else.
“This woman is an impostor.” He thought to himself. “This is not Norah! Is this a trick being played on me?” Suddenly he felt sluggish, like the time slowed down around him and everyone became static in place in a dragged lethargic motion, as if a force would hold him back. “I don’t feel myself,” he thought.
“Noel to earth! Boo-hoo!” she said stunting him. “Speaking of the devil, look who’s coming?” She quipped.“Like I said, meet me at the Vanguard… Good man!” Jim said grabbing Noel by his shoulders from behind, while clowning a pick-ah-boo!”
"Oh no! It’s you again?" Noel said standing up and coming back to his senses.
“Guys! Guys! It is time for my second show, see you in a bit”. Norah said as the announcer introduced her to the stage.
“Jim, can you tell me what’s going on? Who is this woman? Please don’t play with me?”
“Noel what have you been drinking man?” Jim said with a frown.
“There is something different about her… in the expression of her eyes. I don’t know. They are not blue, neither hazel. She’s not the same person…” he said, looking at Jim a close range.
“I can’t help you, Noel! You’re creeping me out; I don’t see what you see.." He was interrupted by the sound from the stage, and both turned to it. “I don’t know what you are talking about!” Jim whispered looking down shrugging his shoulders.
“Even you sound different; since when you’re so sheepish?” Noel said under his breath.
A couple of people stared at them not very pleased with the minor interruption of their banter.
A moment later Noel told Jim over his shoulder “I got to go,” and walked towards the exit, the lights were dimmed; the focus was on Nora’s act. It crossed his mind this was one of her signature songs she recorded when their first met. Norah didn't see him leave.
He stepped out into Manhattan on a Friday night. He stood there almost absent minded feeling the vibrations of the music right on his back. He pulled the car keys from his pocket and said “I have to rescue me and my car from the meter-maid!” faking a British accent tossing the keys in the air.
“Hey Rita maid stop that…” he hollered, knowing that this was not his car being ticketed.
“Excuse me sir I am only doing my job…” the woman said “Carry on, carry on Rita maid don’t let me be in your way,” he clowned some more, having spotted his car under the sign.
“Noel, wait! It is not what you think,” Jim said showing up out of breath.
“Jim you could have called me, you know that I'm busy. What’s the rush?
“I am only protecting you, don’t you know?”
“What’s the riddle? What am I supposed to know Jim? Look, I got to go…”
“On your way back, please stop by, we’ll be waiting for you”
“Jim this is getting crazier by the minute…We? ha ha ha!” Noel chuckled in derision, not having the situation very clear.
“Go Noel go, I’ll be waiting for you my friend. Go!”
He got in the car and pulled out without uttering a word, noticing Jim standing by the sign stooping forward, looking at him through the back window with an attitude he couldn’t ascertain. As he turned on Greenwich Avenue he voiced “I don’t quite understand Jim anyway, at any given time.”
His car vanished in seconds into a sea of blinking lights and traffic. Then unexpectedly the lights ahead became very bright encircling into a blinding shrinking dot. Then, everything turned into darkness. He heard muffled voices around him like coming through a wall. There were other people around him speaking clearly but he did not understand what they were saying. His hands were not on the steering wheel, neither was he driving. He realized he was lying on his back but nothing to be questioned or out of normal. He heard Nora’s voice and he reckoned she was not on stage. “She’s talking about me, almost whispering,” he noticed.
“Look! his eyes are open and blinking. "Oh Noel can you hear me? Answer me!” Norah said; now Noel sensing her presence by his side asked.
“Norah. How did you get here?”
“Noel darling you’re back!”
“What do you mean Norah? What’s going on”
“You don’t remember anything? You had an accident a week ago pulling from the 9th Avenue Garage. A truck hit your car sideways as you pulled out. You’ve been unconscious for the last seven days…”
Noel eyes were not quite opened; he squinted to the light coming through a window, while the room seemed to be spinning on him; experiencing a falling sensation, he heard steps coming towards him. Then a voice said.
“C’mon sleepy head! Wake up, you’ll miss the appointment at Kennedy…"
“What…what Norah is that you? Oh you would not believe it…”
“Believe what? Who do you think I was? I couldn’t wake you up, I thought for a moment you were fibbing! Here’s your coffee darling."
"Jim texted me to meet them at the Village Vanguard tonight."
* * *
Noel was not quite awoken yet when he instinctively turned to the window facing the Boulevard. He thought he caught the sight of the trinkets of a merry-go-around of sorts, being carried on a trailer, tailed by a banner that scurried by quickly ‘The Labor Day New York Caribbean Carnival’ was displayed, dispelling his assertions regardless, the thought of a Carnival from back in the day, brought fond memories as a boy growing up in Brooklyn.
He ventured a snitch peek to Norah who was reading the morning news, in a world of her own, at the foot of the bed. Her forehead was up enough to catch his eyes over the pages.
-Motionless silence in between-
She asked from behind the paper:
“What’s going on Noel Stone, you haven’t touched your coffee yet?” She said calmly, noticing some uneasiness coming from him, unaware of his true state of mind.
Noel scrambled to react and voiced “You’re right, I haven’t, I mean, I was thinking…”
“You seem a bit excited this morning, relax…” Norah said, taking the coffee mug from his hand.
“Are you ready for a fresh refill?” She said in a charming tone.
She turned to him before leaving the room and said teasingly:
“Since you’re thinking, remember, we are supposed to be at Aunt Josephine this weekend…”
“This weekend? In Rhode Island?” Noel said frowning.
“This is her 78th birthday and she’s your favorite Aunt…”
Noel, felt anxious. He was uncertain whether this was a new day, or the continuation of last night oneiric vivid experience. He decided to answer the easy question.
“Yes, I’d love a fresh cup of coffee dear,” he said, seconds later.
“Coming right up in a minute,” Norah assured.
He lay back to get comfortable and came back to his senses.
“Noel, somebody is at the stoop downstairs!" She hollered from the kitchen. “I hear, whoever that person is, is tapping on the door bell”
“Yes! That bell works when it wants…” He said jumping out of bed, cracking the door open enough, at the top of the stairs, to catch a sight through the glass of the heavy double doors of the brownstone building.
“There is a man leaving right now; he is wearing a blue jacket crossing the street!” Bawled back at her, feeling a bit more spirited “You’ll have a better view from the window…”
“Yes, I can see him, it is Jim Fitz… do you want me to call him?”
“No, please don’t.” He said emphatically.
“What I meant, was to call him on the cell phone; why are you giving me that look?" She said handing him a cup of coffee a bit ticked off.
“I just don’t feel like talking to Jim right now…”
“I don’t understand, isn’t he one of your best friends?” She said leaning on the door jamb sporting a smirk now, challenging Noel.
“This would have been the right time to tell him we are not meeting tonight at the Village Vanguard, wouldn’t it be?” She said in one breath.
“Remember Aunt Josephine always invites your friends, am I right?"
“He should have called us first! Uh-oh you are right, she always does that.” He said, on a second thought, being very agreeable.
“Since when Jim had to call first? He's your friend, and for the record, he texted us late last night, as you know.
“Alright, alright you are right, ok? Let’s figure out what we are doing then” Concluded Noel.
“It's Jim calling,” Noel whispered, bringing his index to his mouth. She shrugged (getting her involved indirectly in his secret mood mug) while saying in body language:
“So what? Answer the call then.”
“Jim, were you at my door a few minutes ago?”
“Well, yes, but you didn’t answer…” (Noel cut him short)
“The bell is out of commission Jim, what’s going on?”
“I wanted to touch base with you, and get some free coffee. What’s wrong with you?”
“Your Aunt reminded me of her birthday attendance, so the Vanguard is out of the picture, provided that I can get a ride with you, but there is a problem. I am in the committee with the NY Labor Day Activities, scheduled to meet this morning with the New York Caribbean Carnival principals at the Bowery Ballroom in about one hour.”
“This cannot be for real.” Noel let go, without pulling the phone away from his face.
“What do you mean?” Jim asked.
“No worries, this hasn’t anything to do with you, if you believe that, this time I want to believe you are absolved”
“You are a funny guy Noel, and you don’t even know it. A little bit of a dreamer, and dreams cannot be controlled; are we riding together this afternoon, Sir?
‘“Noel are you still there?
“What did he say?” Norah asked.
“I am not sure,” he said, clicking off the phone and holding some thoughts for himself.
“I have to run to the store, we need a few things for the trip. Is it a go?” She asked - showing two thumbs up.
“I believe I need a break, more than celebrating her birthday. Yes! It is a go Norah!
“Finish your coffee then, there's a half a bagel in the toaster and chives cream-cheese on the counter,” she added. In a jump and a skip she walked out the door.
Noel tapped the bathroom door opened, and checked himself in the mirror, as if he were searching for a clue in his eyes; the right and left cheek. He ran his fingers through his disheveled hair, and approved of his cool morning looks; kind of greeted his own reflection and jumped in the shower.
The second cup of coffee sat cold in the kitchen when he walked in, turned on the small screen on the counter to the news, NBC was showing the preparation for the Labor Day celebration in the Bowery. He and Jim worked in similar businesses, connecting parties under contract with theatres, television and others; in this case NYC. This was a clip been shown before; where Jim Fitz would show up briefly talking with city authorities, for the photo op. The same scene came up but without Jim, instead he walked in from the background facing the camera and then he tried to say something, but the audio seemingly was out of sorts.
“Noel I'm back,” Norah announced from the bottom of the stairs.
“Anything new since I was gone?”
“All is quiet in the ‘vanguard’ my dear; I am ready to split whenever you are” Noel said, throwing that word in with almost prophetic ulterior motive.
Little Compton was about two hundred miles from Manhattan, a picturesque ride bordering the Long Island sound. One hour and a half later Noel got in the car parked at the 9th Ave Garage with a spirit of anticipation. He sat in his black Porsche sensing a freakish familiarity with this routine goings-on; he’s done it before, even seeing the same people.
“I have to pull out of here, right now.” He muttered to himself.
He stepped on the gas but the powerful sports car wouldn’t move; with both hands clinched to the steering wheel he raised his eyes to the long ramp leading to the exit. He could only see the shades of the vehicles rushing by the avenue. One of the attendants approached the passenger’s side window, motioning to open it. He have never seen this person before, but he was wearing the garage logo, and he felt a sense of peace in the midst of a somber palpable reality he was experiencing from one second to the next. The strange man added to the unexpected bizarre situation when he said “Don’t leave as yet Mr. Stone, wait a couple of seconds, there is something coming your way that you want to miss. Also, a woman called here a minute ago, from one of the local airports asking for you by name if you have left…” and the unknown man walked out of sight.
-Noel’s cell rings-
“Hello!” He answered timidly.
“Hello, Noel? Long time no speak! This is Norah! I just arrived at La Guardia."
He dropped the phone, and blindly stepped on the 750 horse power, fish-tailing machine to the flashing lights at the top of the ramp, where he was stopped by one of the several attendants.
“What’s going on?” Noel shouted exasperated.
“A run-away loaded delivery truck had brake failure and rammed on several vehicles, full speed at the light”
“You are dead lucky, Mister, you could had been one of them.”
© Victor Castleton May 2019
bravejames07 at gmail.com
The story continues here - Chapter Two - Part One
Victor J. Castleton
With a mild screeching halt, I was back where I was twenty two years ago.
The Little men
Victor J. Castleton
It all started at the beginning of a winter season on the east end of the Island.