Hot and cold at the star.., p.2
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       Hot and Cold at the Starlight Diner, p.2

           Helen Cox
 
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  DECEMBER

  ‘You’re looking very well, Rita.’ Dr Goldwyn peered at me over his gold-rimmed glasses

  as I breezed through the door of his consultation room. I smiled my red lipstick smile.

  Idiota.

  Really? That’s all it took? A smear of lipstick and a dash of mascara. You’d think a

  shrink’d be smarter than that. But for all his qualifications, when it came to women, Dr Goldwyn saw what he wanted to see. That’s why I was wearing a yellow sun dress in December. Every other session I’d worn navy, but that day I had to wear something bright to blind him from the truth.

  ‘Take a seat. Are you feeling any better?’ He rubbed his bristly, brown beard before

  reaching over to an octagonal coffee table for his notebook. There, week on week, he’d scribbled his diagnosis on who I was. His fountain pen scratched across the page, his head surrounded by framed certificates hanging on the back wall. Mementos glorifying his professional prowess, designed to remind his patients he was licensed to pass judgement on them.

  ‘Yes, much better.’ I lied, taking my place on his brown leather couch. It was battered

  and lumpy, but only an imbecile would be comfortable in the company of a shrink anyhow. ‘The burns still hurt, of course.’ I looked down at the red-brown blotches across my

  hands and forearms, trying to find some meaning in them. A self-inflicted Rorschach test.

  ‘How’s your father?’ asked Goldwyn.

  ‘Papi’s good.’ I nodded.

  Papi was despairing. He was a doctor. Doctors like to fix things but he couldn’t fix

  his own daughter, and it was breaking his heart.

  ‘Well, we have to go though some questions, as usual. But you seem brighter. I’m

  confident we’ll wrap this up before Christmas.’ He chuckled at his pun. I took the cue to be normal and twittered.

  ‘Oh, that’s pretty funny Dr Goldwyn.’ I switched my smile up to high beam.

  Goldwyn adjusted the green tie he was wearing, the one token nod to colour in his

  otherwise grey ensemble. He straightened his glasses. The faintest blush surfaced just behind his ears. If I’d figured out quicker he was that susceptible to flattery, I could’ve had my therapy ‘wrapped up’ by the end of session one.

  ‘OK, first up, the difficult one.’ He cleared his throat. ‘Have you given any more

  thought as to why you did it, Rita?’ Goldwyn had heard three different answers to this question already.

  ‘I wanted to feel something, anything.’

  ‘I thought I could smoke out the tears.’

  ‘I was hurting and I wanted people to know that, even if they couldn’t see it.’

  Not one of my darkest truths had satisfied Goldwyn.

  Finally though, I’d figured out the correct answer to The $64,000 Question. The

  question of why, the night Kennedy got shot, I’d gone home and pressed my hands down on a lit stove while Mami and Papi stood in the living room, serving sherry to the Castillos.

  ‘I was sad about the president,’ I looked deep into Goldwyn’s pale blue eyes as I

  spoke. ‘Dr Goldwyn, what happened to the president was unbearable. I got so sad, I didn’t know what I was doing when I put my hands on the gas ring.’

  Goldwyn nodded and scribbled faster than usual, perhaps inspired by the fact I was, at last,

  speaking a language he understood.

  ‘Have you taken the pills I prescribed?’

  ‘Yes.’ No.

  ‘Do you think they’ve helped you feel less sad?’

  ‘Yes, very much.’ Ask the gutter outside my bedroom window if it’s feeling less sad.

  That’s what’s been swallowing those repellent orange capsules.

  ‘Do you still think about dying?’

  ‘Not at all.’ Sometimes.

  ‘And what do you plan to do now? Your mother told me you’re… reluctant to marry.

  You don’t want to work as a sales clerk all your life, do you Rita?’ At this, Goldwyn raised an eyebrow.

  Ridículo.

  Of all my behaviour, the most unsettling to anyone was a hesitation in becoming a

  man’s life-long nursemaid.

  ‘Mami exaggerates.’ I smiled again. ‘Dr Goldwyn, you can understand why a twenty

  one year-old woman might not want to discuss every last romantic detail with her mother, can’t you?’

  ‘Oh… well, yes.’ Dr Goldwyn lowered his eyebrow, relaxing the muscles that’d been

  creasing his forehead. ‘So, you do want to marry?’

  ‘Yes.’

  No, not really. Who would choose this anyway? Who would want me, forever?

  Goldwyn leant over and scribbled something else in his notebook. He looked up at me

  one last time, as though double-checking the figuring on some difficult math formula written across my face. Lowering his eyes, he stabbed the page with a full stop.

  ‘Well, seems to me you’re on the mend. If not, fully recovered.’

  ‘I am?’ ¡Santo Dios. Thank heaven Papi was getting the friends and family rate for

  this crock.

  ‘Rita, the president’s death affected a lot of people. You were just one of them. The

  burn marks, they may never completely go away but they will feel better. Over time. Keep taking the pills and I’m sure this will all feel like a distant memory, very soon.’

  I nodded. Breathed deep, trying to loosen the clench in my chest.

  Perhaps I should confess that this wasn’t over. That it could not be.

  But no.

  I looked again into those pale, steady eyes. Goldwyn wasn’t that stupid. He just

  wanted me to fool him well enough that he could write me out a clean bill of health with a clear conscience. He didn’t want to know the truth. Not really.

  ‘Thank you for all your help Dr Goldwyn.’ I stood and looked down on him. He rose

  from his seat. Slow, stiff, almost cautious. Did he know I’d figured him out?

  ‘I’ll tell your father we’re all good here.’

  ‘Yes.’ Smiling was harder this time, but I forced it. ‘Papi will be so pleased.’

  Goldwyn issued one final, clinical nod. I pulled on my coat and stepped out into the waiting room, closing the door behind me.

  Bernie sat, as I had left him not fifteen minutes earlier, engrossed in a copy of Woman

  and Home magazine. I snatched it out of his hands, smirking when I saw he’d been examining an advertisement for women’s hosiery closer than was proper.

  He frowned, but knew better than to question my swift reappearance in front of Janie,

  Goldwyn’s secretary. She acted nice enough but she wore too much blush on her cheeks. I’d take any excuse not to trust someone. In Janie’s case her resemblance to a circus clown was the only justification I needed.

  Out on Bleecker Street, Bernie dropped his trilby back on his head. He leaned into

  me, dipping so I could link my arm through his. I snuggled close, trying to ignore the stink of raw meat drifting out of Ottomanelli’s butcher shop.

  ‘So, what the doc say?’ said Bernie, when I didn’t volunteer any information.

  ‘I’m cured,’ I said, raising both eyebrows.

  ‘Jeez, what a crock.’ Bernie shook his head. ‘Tell ‘em you were sad about the

  president?’

  ‘Yes.’ I stopped walking. Looked up at Bernie, into those eyes flecked with gold. ‘I

  am sad about the president, Bernie. Honest I am. But it’s not the reason I -’

  ‘I know.’ There was a warmth to Bernie’s eyes. They glowed like embers.

  ‘There’s something else. Something darker inside and I don’t think it’s going to go

  away. There’s only two things that’ve ever made it stop. Putting my hands on the gas ring, and kissing you.’

  ‘Well, if you’re going to get all romantic on me…’ Bernie ti
lted his head forward so it

  pushed against mine, and he brushed a stray hair away from my face.

  ‘Sorry, but you’re the only one I can be honest with. The only one who hears me.’

  ‘Well that’s something, ain’t it?’ he said, his lips starting a slow migration towards

  mine.

  ‘Bernie,’ I whispered, right before our mouths met.

  And for six seconds out of the next ten, I forgot myself.

 
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