The cocktail party started later than I expected. For some reason I thought it would be outside and that we would mingle in clusters on a Manhattan balcony. I thought there would be music and starlight and champagne. Instead there was cigarette smoke and red wine; elbow-to-elbow, the glitterati gathered, each one more talented than the next.
I felt invisible the moment I walked in the door.
White skin glimmered; red lips waxed long and low in sultry tones. Black dresses, low-cut, black suits, open collars. They didn’t have to work at being chic. It came naturally. After years of pretending to fit in, they finally did.
They broke the rules. I was still struggling to learn them.
A cacophony of voices—sweet as a mother’s lullaby, rough as a new lover’s kiss—rolled over me. Seduced me. They were all here, crowded into this one magnificent Art Deco penthouse. All the writers I had ever admired. I closed my eyes and took in one long jealous breath, wished that I could capture the magic of their words in my chest, wished that my fingers would tingle with their enchantment.
Then I moved through the slender, catlike bodies. Noted black and white shadows, long graceful necks, dark glowing eyes. I listened. I walked between them, searching.
Finally I paused, somewhere between Philip K. Dick and Sue Monk Kidd. Somewhere between rippling silk and replicant snakeskin. That was when I heard it.
Sensuous and lyrical; somewhere a broken-hearted musician was tangled in barbed wire cynicism. And while his voice was distinctly unique, I knew immediately that it was also a little bit like mine.
Then I saw him. Dangerous, with a take-you-to-the-moon-and-back grin.
I recognized the lilt of New Orleans jazz in his voice; saw the dusky color of Creole on his skin. He walked up to me, ice cubes tinkling in the glass he carried. He wasn’t drinking wine like everyone else. He nodded, introduced himself.
We talked that night, longer than we should have. We met, many times after that. Secretly at first. I didn’t want anyone to know about him. Then I realized his voice was strangely addictive, that it had poured like gasoline into all my empty spaces and then, with an unexpected flash of heat lightning, I was on fire.
I had the voice I had been looking for.
And now it belonged to me, something that I could keep hidden in a treasure box, or I could stand on a street corner and speak it out loud like a Beat poet.
For me, the party was over.
It was finally time to write.
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