Previously: A man named Alyosha disappeared. Naomi and Eve host a pot luck dinner, to see if any of the other tenants would like to join the spontaneous detective team. They’d call themselves Eve and Others.
By seven o’clock, the apartment was full. Naomi and Eve did not know their neighbors. Elevator hellos were all they knew. Charles stood outside the door of apartment 57. He was an unlikely greeter, not a natural shaker of hands. He was dressed, too, to say hello, in his tight black velvet pants, in his black t-shirt that had the words Hello or Else written in script. The t-shirt had never seemed so appropriate. “I’m Charles,” he said, over and over again to the stream of tenants, of all ages and races and sizes. “Who might Charles be?” asked Pin Ball, the building drag queen. Pin Ball was dressed in Judy Garland. Her lips could not have been more red.
“Interesting name you have,” said Charles to Pin Ball.
“Given to me, in a dream,” he said. “Judy sang it loud and clear. Pin Ball Pin Ball You Are Mine. And you,” he asked. “Did you become a Charles? Is Charles your by choice name?”
“My mother, a delusional Jew in the projects in Brighton Beach, thought Charles sounded like I’d be a King. King Charles Schwartz,” he said, and they both laughed.
The apartment was festooned with helium balloons, dripping from the ceiling. Red and purple, silver and gold yellow and orange and turquoise blue. The store on 72nd Street, Good Card Spot, recently acquired a balloon tank, and they’d decided that this potluck, no matter what happened, was an occasion to celebrate, and occasion worth of spending $15.00 for decorations.
Mrs. Israel brought a large floral plate full of homemade peanut butter cookies, and light pink napkins to match her plate. Her outfit, carefully chosen, consisted of many matching parts: her tasteful pearl earrings, her graduated pearl necklace, the single pearl modestly set in gold on her only ring finger. Mrs. Israel would not wear a ring on any finger except one. She looked as if she could be the perfect detective, perfect victim, or perfect criminal too. She was in careful disguise.
Richard and Richard, a couple from he sixth floor (“Don’t call either of us Dick,” said the taller one. “We are both Richards.”) brought a large tray of mini quiches and Eloise, an overweight tap dancer from the third floor, came with her favorite cheese cake. She brought many handwritten copies of the recipe on index cards, and propped one on the table next to cheese cake with the tile Only Philadelphia Cream Cheese.
Charles magically brought out a triangle with a stick, and he hit it a few times until the guests looked his way. Over 20 people were side by side in Apartment 55, happily talking, eagerly eating as much as they could on day glow orange plates with matching knives and forks.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” he began.
“And others,” sang out Pin Ball.
“And others,” said Charles. “We are here together for the very first time. This is where we actually begin. Let me introduce your hosts. I too am just a guest,” he said. And at that, Eve and Naomi, in silver and gold, stood on the couch.
“Hello,” they shouted into the room. “Hello.”
To see previous installments of this serialized novel, go to our web site. Esther Cohen writes a poem a day at esthercohen.com