Glorie’s Last Stand
Original Online Fiction
Des cut Glorie off just as she launched into the story again, reminding her that he’d been there, right afterwards. “Well, fine, but you don’t know everything,” she said, followed by silence on the phone, neither of them giving in to speak first, until Des broke the impasse. “You’re still coming, right? Promise you’ll ask Fred to call you a cab?”
“Fred’s not on duty tonight,” Glorie said. “I’ll have to hail my own taxi.”
“Somebody will get you one.” Des massaged his forehead, loosening the tightness to stave off a new set of wrinkles. The doormen who manned the entrance to the high-rise down the block from the four-story walk-up where Glorie lived were more than happy to help her out, even though she tipped them like Eisenhower was still president.
Before they got off the phone, Des promised that, as soon as she arrived and buzzed, he’d come downstairs to get her, which seemed to please her. Glorie was featherlight; if need be, he and Jon or Jacques would carry her up the stairs. She’d enjoy the grand entrance—Carole Channing in Hello Dolly.
Des tried to picture Glorie in a beaded gown, long gloves past her elbows, but worry clouded the image. No matter how much Glorie insisted she’d tripped, Des wasn’t so sure. When he arrived at the hospital last Thursday, Glorie had seemed so confused, giving him a blank look as if unsure of who he was. The nurse had to tell him what happened because Glorie didn’t remember: She fell at Macy’s, landing face first on the floor.
“Too bad it wasn’t Bergdorf’s,” Glorie had replied, without missing a beat.
That’s when Des knew she’d be okay.
Macy’s was being very solicitous, offering to pay all medical bills, even though three people saw Glorie trip over her own damn scarf that trailed behind her like a bad stage review. Glorie had stuffed that ratty old silk in her pocket because she didn’t want to lose another one. A few weeks ago, she’d left a Hermes on the bus.
Glorie, Des feared, was losing more than scarves these days.
Des straightened the fussy lace cloth that, like the table it was on, had been left to him by his Aunt Gertrude. That old gal had been born in 1880—104 years ago—and married into money in 1899 when New York City was in its prime. If he could pick his era to live in, that would be it. Now New York was falling apart, still not recovered from its near-bankruptcy. Crime was up and the streets were filthy. If the building super didn’t get the garbage in the alley picked up soon, they’d have to invest in leashes to take the rats for a walk. But at $323 a month—Des raised his eyes to whatever angels looked out for old actors in rent-controlled apartments—he wasn’t about to complain.
Let the Yuppies do the yapping—oh, that was a good one, he smiled. He’d have to tell that to Scott the next time they saw each other. That would have been tonight—baptism by fire at one of the dinners Des told him so much about—except Scott had to work late. Probably better this way, Des decided: It was too soon to involve others that may or may not evolve into something.
But, just for a moment, Des allowed himself the fantasy of he and Scott living in his apartment—almost a one-bedroom if you considered the separate sleeping alcove. Scott was fifteen years younger, 42 to his 57. Glorie would be apoplectic with jealousy.
Des focused on the table: six place settings for the dinner he’d hosted every third Monday of the month since 1971. Thirteen mostly uninterrupted years, except for the very occasional tours, rehearsals, and performances. These days, none of them were on a real stage anymore, except for Jon in that awful experimental thing last year, as far off Broadway as could be imagined.
His own heyday had come and gone before he’d known what was happening. Back in the early Fifties, a good-looking man of twenty-four with a strong and confident singing voice, he’d won a few small parts on Broadway. He still had the Playbills from each of those shows, with a listing or even a small bio: Desmond Richards—his real name, for which he thanked his parents who could have named him Archie or Gustav. His father never liked the idea of his son in theater, although his mother used to come into the city from New Jersey to watch a matinee: Her boy, fourth dancer on the right; the singer with three lines; the guy who sweeps the girl into his arms under the lamppost…
Then the pipes gave out, and his acting wasn’t good enough to land him dramatic roles, though he made a decent living in radio commercials. Even now, he was in demand. Nationwide Insurance loved him—authoritative, yet grandfatherly, the casting director told him. God love them, he’d help hawk their policies until he was cold in the grave.
Glorie had the longest career of all of them. A dancer in the chorus, with thighs to die for and a perky all-American look with a veneer of sexiness—Doris Day as played by Monroe. She went to Hollywood for a while and tested well for the screen. Then came bit parts, mostly in screwball comedies: the friend, the neighbor, the girl in the typing pool. But she worked with some of the greats. Once, in a department store scene, she said, “May I help you?” to Humphrey Bogart—or was it Gene Kelly?
After a spiral of bad men and worse parts, Glorie came back to New York and acted a little, but had to support herself in retail, although she never liked the idea of a job with regular hours. She did radio commercials sometimes when he could get a gig for her.
The slow fade was the same for all of them: hopes, dreams, and then—Wham!—reality, but it seemed to hit Glorie the hardest. Maybe because she’d made it the farthest, Des thought; but it was hardly far enough for her to have two nickels—How dated that sounded!—two subway tokens to rub together. A little better, Des told himself, always practicing his lines and stories for his next audience, which he hoped would be Scott before too long.
Des pulled out one of the dining chairs with the curlicue legs and sat down at the table that dominated the apartment. He always pictured having a Park Avenue townhouse where he’d host soirees and dinner parties that sometimes got a mention in the Times. Instead he was cooking Cornish hens in a galley kitchen on Thirty-Third Street, for all the world an aging has-been, living on his own.
The doorbell chimed, cheap and tinny. The intercom was reduced to static, another thing the super ignored, so Des buzzed in whoever it was.
Jacques blotted his forehead with a square of a white linen handkerchief after walking the three flights up, then handed him a bottle of wine. Des knew Jacques (real name, Harvey) from the old days, when they were in a few productions together and sometimes faced off in auditions. Maureen, Jacques’ girlfriend, arrived a short while later, straight from work in a dark suit and sensible shoes, the uniform of Wall Street where she did something complicated with numbers. She handed yellow daisies wrapped in pink tissue paper to Des.
“How was your day, dear?” she asked Jacques with a June Cleaver peck on the cheek that made Des smile.
At six-forty-five, Jon arrived with Devon. “My sister’s son,” Jon said, flourishing his hand in the direction of the young man in chinos and a blue shirt—Brooks Brothers, Des noted. A freshman at Columbia University, Devon was staying with Jon in his two-bedroom on Riverside Drive, inherited after Jon’s long-time partner died.
Des had always coveted that space, imagining what he could do with it—more light, a bigger dining table, sing-alongs around the piano. Jon surely couldn’t keep the place up without his nephew paying something. Who was really helping whom in that arrangement?
Seeing the boy, who resembled Jon slightly through the eyes and cheekbones, Des gave him an hour tops before he feigned an excuse about needing to be someplace. Who’d blame him for not wanting to spend the evening with people twice—Des corrected himself, the kid was eighteen—three times older than he was?
Finally, at seven-fifteen, with the mini-crab puffs out of the oven and on a serving tray, and the roasted Cornish heads nearly browned to perfection, Des heard the door buzzer. “Thank God!” He tossed the oven mitts aside in preparation for the descent, but Devon was on his feet.
“I’ll go,” he said. “Uncle Jon told me about your friend.”
Des cast a glance at Jon, who nodded, and let the kid go. Glorie would enjoy arriving on the arm of a good-looking young man.
She wore a platinum page-boy wig that curled toward her face and covered her cheekbones, and owlish dark glasses like Jackie O’s. Her pantsuit was a modest tan tweed, appropriate for an early fall evening, and her heels were mid-height, not the stilettos Glorie was still known to wear. But the wig and glasses made Glorie look like a caricature of herself, even though Des knew why: the bruises were still bad.
Des held her lightly, feeling the delicate bones, his kisses landing on air instead of the heavily made-up cheeks. “You’re going to have to take off the glasses, love,” he whispered. “Remember my lighting? Dim enough to make us all look good.”
Glorie accepted help to a chair, crossed her long legs, and took a glass of wine, but waved off a crab puff. “My girlish figure.” Age deepened her voice, like Lucille Ball’s.
Jon, Jacques, and Maureen leaned in, asking how she was, what had happened. Glorie obliged, sparing no details. Des watched her as she spoke, remembering the old days when she could dance like Cyd Charisse. If only she’d become famous, the trivia nuts would have gone crazy over her name: Glorie Youngblood, after Gloria Swanson and a not-so-subliminal message to youth-obsessed casting directors. But she’d been born Hazel Frumpfmeister—you just can’t make that stuff up.
Glorie was talking about Bacall. “We looked a lot alike in those days, although my hair was lighter than hers. Same bone structure, though. I caught Bogie giving me the once-over more than a few times, naughty boy.”
Their laughter was polite, indulgent—even Des, who knew for a fact that none of that had happened except in Glorie’s imagination.
“Are you an actor?” Glorie asked Devon over the rim of her wineglass.
Devon shook his head. “Finance—my father insists, but it suits me. I’d like to go into investment banking.”
“Oh, then Maureen’s the one you want to know.” Jacques patted his girlfriend’s knee. “She’s at Lazard Freres.”
“Wow, do they do internships?” Devon asked.
“Always sounded like a funeral home to me,” Glorie interrupted. “When I go, Maureen, do you think I could lie in state there?”
Putting his hand on Glorie’s shoulder, Des redirected the conversation back to Devon and Maureen. Seeing Glorie’s pout, he leaned in closer and lowered his voice. “Love the blond wig, darling. Is it new?”
“You’ve seen me in it a million times.” Glorie turned away from him and toward the others. “I’ll tell you a secret. I’m really a redhead—cross my heart.” She swiped an X across her chest. “But I’ve been a blond for most of my career, a brunette on demand, and once a hip length wig that hid the fact I was naked on stage.” She winked at Devon. “I’m sure you can imagine that.”
“Time to eat,” Des said, derailing Glorie’s train of nonsense thought—she’d never played Lady Godiva. “My poor birds are wilting, or whatever it is they do.”
“Molting!” Jacques laughed, “although I hope they’ve been thoroughly plucked by now.”
“Plucked, stuffed, basted, roasted, and ready to be devoured,” Des announced.
Glorie drank three glasses of wine and ate almost nothing, even though Des plied her with bread, roasted potatoes, and another slice of meat on her plate.
She was in rare form, and not in a good way, telling tales that had no basis in reality and outrageously flirting with Devon. What the hell part did she think she was playing, Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard?
Maureen and Jacques cast glances that stopped being subtle. Devon stared at his shoes. Jon asked and then told Glorie to take it easy. Des served more wine, then brought out the cake and coffee before the dinner dishes were cleared—anything to keep Glorie from making any more of a fool out of herself. Had she become unhinged—psychotic, maybe even a stroke—which would explain the fall, although surely the doctors checked for that?
When she got up to “powder her nose,” Des took Glorie’s arm and steered her the ten feet to the bathroom. “You’re not yourself tonight. I’m worried.”
“I’m exactly who I am.” Glorie flung her arms out dramatically, rapping the knuckles of her right hand against the wall. The sound made Des flinch, but Glorie never lost her composure.
When the bathroom door was shut, Des apologized to the others. “After that fall she’s on a lot of medication.” Maureen made sympathetic noises; Jon and Jacques nodded their heads in understanding. “You’re not seeing the Glorie we know, Devon.”
“I get it,” the young man said. “She’s old. Stuff like this happens.”
“Glorie is two years younger than I am,” Des protested on her behalf—a minor lie, since she was actually older by a couple of years. “She’s been in more theater productions, worked with more stars—Redford, Bacall, Fonda, Burton and Taylor—than anyone you’ll ever know or hope to meet.”
Before he finished, Des was aware of Glorie standing behind his chair, gripping the back of it. “I never worked with Burton,” she said. “But Jane Fonda once asked me how to draw her eyeliner straight.”
Glorie let go of the chairback, assumed a pose, hands clasped to her breast, eyes fixed on a distant point: “Oh, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!—The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword…”
Slipping out of character as if shrugging off an overcoat, Glorie looked down and smiled. “Still remember my Ophelia.”
“You played her?” Jon asked.
Glorie shook her head. “Only to the bathroom mirror, but I gave myself brilliant reviews.” She sat down. Her eyes watered and tracks of tears mixed with mascara trickled over her bruised cheeks. “I’m moving. My sister and her husband are taking me in. It’s back to Scranton for me.”
“No!” Jacques protested. “New York’s your home.”
“Can’t be by myself. Macy’s wasn’t my first fall.”
Des felt the weight of the stare of those angels who looked out for old actors. He shifted in his chair as if dodging their gaze, but knew it was hopeless. “You can move in with me.”
“Really?” Glorie’s voice was small and brittle.
“Until your prince comes along.”
Des knew then that Scott might visit once or twice, but nothing would ever happen between them, not with Glorie here. Perhaps it was better, nip off the chance for another romantic disappointment, even though Scott had made him hopeful, at least for the past ten days.
“My prince is already here,” Glorie said.
Des felt her soft palm against his cheek, knowing this was the part he was meant to play: the hero, the one who saves the day and gets the girl, even though that was never what he wanted when he was a young boy growing up in Matawan, New Jersey.
Des looked up at his guests. “Anybody want an antique dinner table? I’ll need the space for one of those sleeper-sofa things.”
“Oh, Des,” Maureen sighed. “Isn’t there some other way?”
“I’ll take it,” Jon said. “Got a ton of space. Hey, you can do dinners at my place. I’ll serve the wine and you do the cooking. Great arrangement.”
Those angels betrayed him, taking away so much. He’d rather end the Monday night dinners than serve them anyplace else. And the thought of Jon lording over Aunt Gertrude’s table— Des stopped. What did it matter anymore?
“Oh, let’s,” Glorie said. “We can sing around the piano—you’ll have to play, Des. Jon doesn’t.”
“Be fun,” Maureen agreed.
Des took his cue and rose from his chair. “No Scranton for you, Hazel,” he said, and leaned down to kiss Glorie on the cheek, lightly, to avoid the bruises.
Patricia Crisafulli, M.F.A., is an award-winning writer, published author, and founder of FaithHopeandFiction.com. She received her Master’s in Fine Arts (MFA) from Northwestern University, which also honored her with the Distinguished Thesis Award in Creative Writing. She is the recipient of three Write Well Awards for best-of-the-web literary fiction for stories that have appeared on FaithHopeandFiction. She is the author of several nonfiction books and a collection of short stories and essays, Inspired Every Day, published by Hallmark.
Image Credit: © Viacheslav Iacobchuk | Kiev, Ukraine via Dreamstime.com