As I mentioned last time, for a short period in the late 70s and early 80s, I’d flirted with minor celebrity. I was on the way to a party in Uptown, a publisher’s launch event in a neighbourhood that I didn’t know. As we sat there inhaling the leaden fumes, I made a mental note not to come this way again.
Let’s just say I was fashionably late when the beaten-up old taxi finally pulled up at the grandest house I’d ever seen. My invitation was scrutinised closely by an unwelcoming thug on the door, his face strangely obscured by a gas mask. Finding no reason to send me away, with a reluctant wave of the hand he suggested I enter the low-voltage noise inside. The grand entrance hall was throbbing with people and between the rising and falling waves of conversation, I could hear music drifting from one of the rooms at the back of the house. Two things caught my eye straight away: the grand sweep of the staircase that rose to ebony banisters above everyone’s head and seemed to frame the gathered crowd. And a huge chandelier.
All of Boomtown’s literati must have been gathered there that night and to avoid looking like a complete loner, I searched desperately for someone I knew. I missed them at first, probably because my fellow writers were in heavy disguise – I’d never seen them dressed so smartly in the latest styles. ‘Guess I didn’t get the memo’ I joked as I approached in my usual jeans, T shirt and worn combat jacket. It crossed my mind that my dress was probably why I’d been given such a hard time by the gimp at the door…. and that must have been my last coherent thought of the night: Standing with my group of friends was the most startlingly beautiful woman, someone I’d never met before – I’d have known, believe me, because when she looked up to greet me, her smile grabbed my soul!
As I waited for a proper introduction that never came, I could feel my supposed intellect scurrying around inside my empty head, looking for something to say to her – something that wouldn’t sound corny or cheap – but I had nothing. As the conversation rumbled around me, my entire consciousness was drawn to her. Outwardly, she looked so sure and so poised and was clearly quite used to parties like this. Occasionally she’d check the time or raise her glass with a ‘cheers’ to acknowledge her agreement with something that had just been said. But I couldn’t help notice that she was standing a little to one side of the main group, with her bare shoulders softly swaying to the music and for the most part gazing into the depths of her Martini glass. The signs were subtle, but I wondered whether there wasn’t something on her mind.
At that point I was distracted by a loud burst of laughter from a nearby room. When I looked back, she had gone. As I replay the events of that night in my mind, I can imagine her moving across the tiled floor with an elegant glide, something she’d perfected many years before, just for this night. I assumed she’d gone to investigate the commotion and remember the plunging disappointment I felt: I wanted to talk to her and get to know her a little before the night ended and in all probability, I never saw her again. But that disappointment turned to abstract horror when a commotion from the landing made me look up – just in time to see a shape I instantly recognised falling from the banister. Instinctively the crowd stepped back from the centre of the room but her fall to the floor was halted by a gold lame belt, which was wrapped around the chandelier….and her neck. The whole world seemed to fall silent as she gave a last defiant kick at the perfumed air beneath her feet.
I’ve no idea how much time passed before the first screams filled the room. In the commotion that followed, everyone claimed to know her, commented on her style, her grace…but for me, she remained a stranger. And with that began the self-inquisition. If only my dullard mind had thought of something - anything - to say to her when we first met. Would we be sat in a cosily lit corner of a room right now, getting to know each other? And how could I have such strong feelings for someone I’d met barely an hour ago? I didn’t even know her name! Maybe after all, it wasn’t her I was aching for? Maybe it was that initial welcoming smile – the one that had cut through me like a diamond?