Ronnald was a busboy. He was neither imposing nor content. He was delighted, as was his bent, to roam the city when he wasn’t cleaning tables, and take hold of any vehicle that passed his way and lift it, passengers and all, high over his head for whatever length of time pleased him.
Walter Lincoln, who was not impressed by his last name, as it was his tendency to change it every few days, was plainly quite docile and, though he stood on the same street corner every day hawking newspapers, he never sold one. But that didn’t dampen his aspirations, or his confidence that one day he would make it big.
Ronnald spent most nights bussing tables at local nightclubs. It didn’t matter how many patrons had been eating or drinking or the extent of the mess they left. He was a master of movement and hand speed, of depth perception and dexterity. He was also a born juggler, if only of dishes, cups and glasses. Ronnald was naturally gifted at what he did, and when you’ve been so blessed and you embrace the measure of your potential, there is nothing you can’t accomplish.
Ronnald could clear thirty or forty tables in the same time another busboy would take to clear a half dozen. When he was in one of his really productive moods, he could work the night shift clearing and cleaning all the tables at two clubs, as long as they were close by one another. He never thought to ask for more money for his labor. He collected the same check whether his station included a dozen tables or many times that number.
The only thing that slowed him down, to merely three or four times any other busboy’s productivity, was when he listened to Delores sing. She was the new back-up cabaret singer at the Golden Slipper where he worked two nights a week. Her voice reached out to him and took hold of his heart, making it difficult for him to breathe or reason. It was deep and melodious, venting the suffering and beauty of her spirit. It sent warming chills deep into his waiting soul. For that, he came to love her totally. Ronnald also liked the way just the right parts of her body curved out of her skin-tight red and blue sequined gown.
It was after these nights of feeling so close to his love, especially when she sang “Melancholy Baby” or “My Own True Love,” that he was inspired to go out into the street and lift busses and trucks and whatever vehicle he wished over his head even more effortlessly than usual. Of course, he made sure to put them down without further frightening any of the passengers more than they already were. Then, under a tapestry of ornately incandescent clouds, he disappeared back into the night from where he had come.
On one such evening, he lifted a fully loaded coal truck from Slimcoil’s Coal Yard, which he was attracted to because of their recognizable bright red and blue lettering, at the corner of South Durante and Berle. Walter Lincoln stood across the street with his newspapers that night, having not sold one that day, or any previous day, and was quite amazed to see the unassuming, clearly uninspiring apparition of a young man his age, height and weight, handily lift such a formidable object. Walter looked around. The streets were deserted. He was the only one witnessing this triumph of reality over rationale.
Lumps of coal rained down over the sides of the truck as the wheels spun wildly underneath piercing the night with an unearthly, high-pitched whine. Several pieces of coal rolled into the gutter at Walter’s feet. He quickly picked them up and jammed them into his pocket. He hadn’t had heat in his quarters in so long the thought made him shiver, even though the night gave no promise of frost.
Ronnald paused to reflect. He was only eight when he first realized he could lift heavy objects, such as his older sister when, in a fit of pique, she tried to stamp out his collection of tin toy trucks. After the frightening experience, she freed herself from his grasp and dragged their mother into his bedroom to wreak vengeance on the “brother from hell,” as she insisted on calling him.
“Did you lift your sister over your head?” he remembered his mother asking.
“That’s silly,” he responded impassively, though inwardly his imagination quickened with the potential of his new discovery. “I’m just a little kid.”
“There now, that’s settled,” his mother decided, and returned to her crocheting.
His sister bent down with fire in her eyes and glared menacingly at him. “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you,” she said, her fists clenched white at her side. “And there’s only one ‘n’ in Ronnald, no matter what you say.”
Apparently adding an additional letter to his first name drove his sister crazy. That was reason enough to change the spelling. Though he knew instinctively this was another example of him not understanding, or rather accepting, that things were the way they were. Anyway, it was his name and he had to live with it. “Well,” he began, as the explanation came to him, “there are Ronalds, and then there is Ronnald.”
Walter watched, mesmerized as Ronnald lowered the Slimcoil’s truck to the pavement. There was a moment of chill silence, as if the world was holding its breath in anticipation of the next revelation. Walter questioned the accuracy of his senses, but was too transfixed to move further away from the unexpected.
After a while, the shocked driver got out scratching his head in confusion. He walked around the truck passing Ronnald twice without questioning him, but couldn’t make out what had happened. The driver had heard rumors that strange occurrences were possible in this part of the city, but since the police department dismissed the reports of rising and falling vehicles as a practical joke, even though such epiphanies were invariably preceded by colorfully aberrant cloud formations, he accepted that what had happened to him was simply not possible. After a little more head scratching he got back into the truck cab, drained off the remains of a bottle of Rumson’s Rot-Gut Whiskey he had been nibbling away at all night, and drove off.
Ronnald bent down and picked up one of the chunks of coal that had fallen off the truck. He hefted the black lump several times in his hand then turned and launched it after the truck. Had the driver not deliberately passed through a red light at the intersection of Jerusalem and Cornbluth streets, the airborne fossil may never have landed squarely on top of his load. A cloud composed of equal measures of crimson and onyx black water crystals erupted in the sky. It twisted and spiraled off towards the west of the city for over a quarter of a mile then simply disappeared, as was its original intention.
Ronnald brushed the dark stain from his hands, heaved a deep sigh and wondered if Delores was thinking of him at just that moment. Of course she wasn’t, he concluded. She had no reason to. He had not given her any reason to. But that didn’t mean that there wasn’t the slightest, remotest, tiniest fraction of the merest possibility that she hadn’t noticed him, the way he looked adoringly at her, the way he only wanted to take her in his arms and lift her over head triumphantly, and set the lustrous mystery that was hidden under her sequined dress down for an eternal embrace.
When the street was clear, Walter came forward. “Say there,” he began, “that’s not half bad.”
Ronnald was still bemoaning his plight; the reality that he might never work up enough courage to approach Delores and tell her how he felt about her when he heard Walter’s words. He was not thrilled to have his lamentation interrupted. He had planned to spend the rest of the night walking about, lifting and wallowing and lifting and wallowing in his much deserved, sodden self-pity. “I’ve lifted more,” he said and began to move away.
“Do you only lift coal trucks?”
Ronnald knew he was partial to Slimcoil’s, but only because he always had trouble spelling the name. No one had ever asked him questions about his lifting habits before. The few who had noticed him, more often than not, ran off into the night holding their heads in their hands as if their eyes had betrayed them and their brain was on fire. He wasn’t as much put off by the intrusion, as he was surprised.
“Does it make any difference to your lifting if the night sky is pink or green, or rippled with shades of dusky gray, or faintly flecked with wavy strands of peach and umber?”
Ronnald considered the question. He had noticed that sometimes the night sky took on different shades of light and dark, of texture and tone, right before and after he lifted vehicles; but what this pimply, ill-clad lad was implying simply didn’t make sense. “No, I don’t think so.”
Walter looked up at the luminous night sky. It was roiling with a sudden incandescent fever. Pillars of majestic hues swirled and swooned, mixed and refashioned themselves into distinct interwoven cloud patterns. Walter had been pitched out on the streets by his parents from as far back as he could recall, but never witnessed a celestial spectacle as grand as this. Then he remembered he couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten, and quickly returned to the opportunity at hand.
“You know you could get a job at the circus, or even at one of the more swank clubs in town and make a bundle doing that. With me as your manager you could make a killing. You could be rich and famous by the end of the year, maybe sooner, if you follow my advice and work extra especially hard and never once question whatever I tell you to say or do.”
“I already have a good job in a restaurant.”
“The question is not where you are, but where you want to be. Don’t you want more for yourself?”
“Could I earn enough to impress a certain cabaret singer?” Ronnald’s heart pounded with the possibility. He had never thought to impress anyone before. Why hadn’t he thought of that?
“Hey kid, cabaret singers are only interested in the wad in your wallet. But with my brains and your back, you could have any cabaret singer in town, including that delicious new back-up babe with the voice of a dove. What’s her name? You know, the one with the luxurious brunette hair, the exotic, smoky dark eyes, seductively pouting lips and amazing body over at the Golden Slipper?” Now Walter had no idea why he mentioned any one singer at that particular nightspot. But he did, and thought nothing more of it.
Ronnald sensed that this fellow was on the square as soon as he heard the name Golden Slipper. “Then I’ll do it.”
Walter threw his stack of newspapers into the trashcan. Within a week his bespectacled protégé was the toast of the town, enjoying a level of notoriety that banished the event of Warren Harding’s death to the back of the newspapers, though no one seemed to mind.
Ronnald quickly became the featured act in three cabaret shows and an instant star attraction at Bigsby & Boggs’ Traveling Circus. He worked hard, lifting cars and vans and trucks and busses way, way, way over his head seven nights a week with the greatest of ease. The crowds roared their approval, showering the stage with coins and promises of fidelity. Their approval and delight meant nothing to Ronnald. He was on a mission. The more he lifted, the less he saw Delores, the sadder and richer he became. He knew he would have to sacrifice seeing her now, for the possibility of finally being able to impress her later. It was all that kept him sane.
Ronnald never really understood contracts and business, so it never occurred to him to question the substance of Walter’s promotional expenses, or think that he was only getting a small portion of what seemed to be a tremendous income. He knew Walter was handicapped, as was everybody else, by not being able to lift vehicles over their head. So he was willing to make certain concessions for those less advantaged.
There was so much money and he had won such instant fame, that cabaret singers from every corner of the city, then the state, and then the country were camped out at his doorstep, all of them scheming to get his attention. Nevertheless, when he looked around each night before he went out to perform and found that Delores was not among them he only became sadder and worked even harder and therefore became quickly richer.
Walter, who decided to temporarily keep his last name because it was obviously bringing him good fortune, spent his days counting the money that flowed in from Ronnald’s previous night’s efforts. Everything was going swell. Walter muttered “Swell”, when he finished off each stack of a thousand dollars. He wrapped each thick stack of bills with rubber bands that once bound his newspapers together.
By morning there were always two piles of money. Each reached up from the kitchen table in his squalid quarters to the corroded tin ceiling overhead. One pile was for him, in payment for his idea and his undervalued services. The other pile waited for Ronnald who, more often than not, forgot to show up to collect his share; so deep was his grief at having little spare time to visit Delores anymore at the Golden Slipper. Walter took this sign as a telling omen and, being as he was an aspiring religious zealot, mostly because such figures drew mystic attention to themselves and their words were more respected than that of any mere newsboy, he concluded that God didn’t want Ronnald to have the money so he secreted it away for himself.
One night a score of boisterous, and particularly scantily clad cabaret singers were pursuing Ronnald. “Hey,” they yelled out as a chorus, “how about me. Take me.”
“No, take me,” a lusting blonde with legs that seemed to go on forever pleaded, unzipping the front of her flimsy costume and exposing the dimensions of her grandure.
“No, me,” a standout, brunette demanded. She was wearing gleaming red shoes so spiked it made her look as though she were standing on her tiptoes. Ronnald liked spiked red shoes but wasn’t especially interested in the brunette.
“I’m better for you than all of them put together,” the tall redhead squawked hysterically. “I know how to treat a man like you.”
But Ronnald didn’t hear their aching pleas and needy incantations. He knew they were there. Wherever he went there was always a bevy of busty, scantily clad cabaret singers clamoring for his affection. A small van passed close by. If the streetlight turned red, he decided he would go over and lift it over his head if for no other reason than to divert his attention from his current predicament. The light continued green long enough for the van to turn at the corner and disappear deep into the night. The moon’s yellow seal slipped through a chink in the plaid overcast.
“You know, it’s not like that Delores is good enough for you anyway,” one girl with a nest of bright blue feathers embedded in her hair, voiced jealously.
This time Ronnald heard. He turned and confronted the mob of several dozen, half-crazed women. “What did you say?” he demanded of them.
They were startled by his response. The young girl who had made the snide comment about Delores moved cautiously to the back of the crowd. It was only when Ronnald moved closer and the girls became frightened by his crazed expression that they pulled back for their collective safety.
“Who said that?”
The girl with the blue feathers finally came forward. “I’m sorry, but you know Delores Jennings is the only cabaret singer in town who has not fallen desperately in love with you, and that’s because she’s not really a cabaret singer at heart like we are.”
The thicket of young women murmured their collective agreement. They were eager, desperate in fact just to draw his attention, even if it meant effecting a cruel deception, something that was specifically prohibited in their union contract.
Shaking at the possibility, he asked, “She’s not?”
“Not really,” the girl confirmed, now feeling less threatened.
“No, she really isn’t,” added another, undecided as to whether or not now was a good time to throw herself at his feet.
He didn’t know which truth to address; the one dealing with Delores’ passion or her profession. “Then what is she?” Ronnald asked, more distressed than ever.
A blonde stepped forward, her gown folded down around her waist exposing her breasts and brown, eagerly erect nipples. She had an extraordinarily bad crush on Ronnald. He reminded her of a World War I poster she had hung in her bedroom of a heroic young man holding a rifle in one hand and an American flag in the other. “Well, during the day, she is a tap dancing instructor at Tony Lester’s Tip-Tap-Toe Dance Studio, and a lace-weaver wherever she can get work. She only works at night at the Golden Slipper in order to pay for medication for her sick grandmother.”
“She’s very nice that way,” one of the girls revealed, mostly out of guilt.
Ronnald had heard of Tony Lester’s Studio. If Delores was an instructor there, she had to be even more special than he had first imagined. He suddenly wondered if he was worthy of her. “Of course,” he said quietly.
“So you see, she’s not one of us,” a determined voice from the back of the crowd added.
Having not made a convert, they soon left Ronnald standing alone in the middle of the street.
The poor, poor girl he thought. His great, great grandmother on his father’s side had been a lace-weaver too. What a wonderfully strange coincidence. He knew that his Delores must be a wonderfully strange, soulful girl. He had to go to her and reassure her that everything would be all right. He would redouble his lifting efforts. He would work matinees on Wednesdays and Sundays to help Delores get medication for her grandmother. If all else failed, he would ask Walter for an advance on his future income.
Night was deceptively quiet. The sky quickly changed from a faint undulating ripple of fuchsia and cobalt blue to a solid overcast of mint green and magenta. That was his favorite combination. He grew excited by the possibilities before him. He knew if he could save Delores, he could save himself. He was delirious with expectation, and waived his hands frantically overhead, as if he had just lifted the heaviest object there was.
An empty city bus came lumbering down the road in Ronnald’s direction. The driver was so caught up in the colored transfusion of change in the turbulent night sky he never saw the slight fellow dancing round and round in his headlights, or felt the sickening impact of flesh against fender.
When Ronnald woke, broken and bloody, from the accident he begged the bus driver to take him to the Golden Slipper. They arrived just in time to catch Delores coming out of the stage door wearing the face of an angel and clutching a packet of the finest lace to her side. She immediately recognized the crumpled figure kneeling against the doorway and dropped her packet of lace.
Her eyes flamed with desire, than quickly faded with despair. Her voice choked with distress. Her heart stopped and broke in that very same moment. This was not how she had envisioned their first real encounter. She had been in love with this boy since the beginning. It may have been her natural hesitancy, from her fear of rejection that kept her from letting him know how she felt. It may have been the fact that his presence generated an unpredictable electric intensity in the Golden Slipper that she found disconcerting. It may have been the fact that she wasn’t really a cabaret singer, which held her back from exposing her true feelings.
“I love the way you sing,” Ronnald said, barely able to speak from the terrible pain that wracked his body.
The sky crackled and flashed with distant thunder. A whirlwind of mint green and magenta clouds swept from horizon to horizon, blanketing the city and punctuating the heavens with their approval. The chill of the evening evaporated into a tender, healing tropical breeze.
“Oh, you poor, poor darling,” she lamented, and clasped him to her full, fragrant bosom. “I’ll take you home and nurse you back to health. You’ll be fine. You’ll see.”
Ronnald was thrilled with her loving attentiveness. “Well, OK. But only if it’s not too much of a bother.”
© Copyright 1998 Arthur Davis | All Rights Reserved