A hot afternoon in that magical August of 1963, in the town of Cape May, New Jersey...
“Charlotte,” said Steve, smiling as if mysteriously.
Miss Rathbone said nothing to this, not smiling but not frowning either, and continued to read my poems.
“Well,” said Mrs. Rathbone, “I’m impressed. You’re not a cad, are you, Steve?”
He poured himself another glass of water from the flowered plastic pitcher, his cigarette between his lips.
“Now you ask me, Mrs. Rathbone?” he said.
“You treat her right or you’ll have me to deal with.”
Steve took another big drink of water.
“Thrash me with your cane?”
“I’ll thrash you soundly with my cane.”
“Then I assure you I will be the perfect gentleman.”
“I wish you two would stop talking nonsense while I’m trying to read Arnold’s poems,” said Miss Rathbone.
“You shouldn’t read in front of guests, Charlotte,” said her mother. “Put Arnold’s poems away and read them later.”
“How about if I strike you over the head with this book, you old bat.”
“Ha,” said Mrs. Rathbone.
“Now let me read.”
“Are you still sure you want to go out with her, Steve?” said Mrs. Rathbone.
“You like them with spirit, huh?”
“What about you, Arnold?” she said.
“Do you like a girl with spirit?”
I thought about this for a moment.
“Yes,” I said.
“You men have it made,” she said. “The world is your oyster. We women have to content ourselves with being the oyster.”
Miss Rathbone made a snorting sound but I didn’t know if she was snorting at what her mother said or at one of my poetic phrasings.
“Her father was a rogue,” said Mrs. Rathbone. “Just like you two scamps. Loved the ladies. And his booze and cigarettes. Kicked off with a heart attack at fifty-one. But left us fixed, I’ll tell you. Don’t be fooled by our demotic appearance. We are swimming in it.”
“Really,” said Steve.
“Loaded. Do I see dollar signs flashing in your eyes?”
“I hope not,” said Steve.
“But,” said Mrs. Rathbone, “I can tell you she has an income of at least fifty thousand a year. Most of which she simply puts in the bank.”
“You know that’s not true, Mother,” said Miss Rathbone.
“Okay, she takes us on a trip abroad every summer, and we rent this cottage in August, but she’s still driving the same old DeSoto we’ve had since 1947.”
“It’s a perfectly serviceable automobile,” said Miss Rathbone.
“Hey, excuse us!”
This was someone calling from our neighbor’s driveway on the Perry Street side. I turned and saw it was group of men who had just pulled up in a long white Cadillac convertible. They were all wearing sunglasses, and one of them was a Negro.
“Can you help us out?” called the guy from behind the wheel.
“Yes?” I said.
Steve put his hand on my arm, I didn’t know why.
“We’re looking for Windsor Avenue, 200 Windsor Avenue?”
“Oh,” I said. This was the address of where Dick and Daphne and Daphne’s father Mac were staying. I thought I remembered Dick saying it was Mac’s mother’s house or something like that. “It’s right down the street there,” I said. “Next corner.”
“Oh, next corner,” said the guy.
“Yeah,” I said, “just back on out and go that way,” I pointed to the right. “Next corner.”
“Great, we have a cook-out to go to.”
“Have fun,” I said.
The guy backed out and drove off down the street.
Steve finally took his hand off my arm.
“Do you know who that was?” he asked me.
“No,” I said.
“It was Frank Sinatra!”
Miss Rathbone finally looked up from my poems.
“It was,” said Steve. “And that was Sammy Davis, Jr. in the car with him, and Dean Martin and Joey Bishop.”
“Who was the other fellow?” said Mrs. Rathbone.
“I’m not sure who the other guy was, but I think I might have seen him on TV or in the movies.”
“Was it, what’s his name, Peter Lorre?” said Miss Rathbone.
“You mean Peter Lawford,” said Steve. “No, it wasn't him.” He dug into his pocket and took out a Cape May VFW Club matchbook, opened it up and read something on its inside. “I knew it. 200 Windsor.” He held out the open matchbook for everyone to see. “That’s where we’re going tonight, Charlotte. The cook-out.”
Mrs. Rathbone took the matchbook out of his hand and held it close to her eyes.
“I’ll be hornswoggled,” said Mrs. Rathbone. “You’re sure that was Sinatra?”
“Of course I’m sure.”
“I don’t know how I feel about Charlotte going to a party with Negroes.”
“I’ll protect her,” said Steve.
“In my day the races didn’t mix.”
“Your day is gone, Mother,” said Miss Rathbone.
“You behave yourself there, young lady, with these movie stars and Negroes.”
“I fully intend to dance the Watusi with the first Negro I see there. With Steve’s permission of course.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t have it any other way, Charlotte," said Steve. "What do you think, Arnold?”
“About what?” I said.
“About Sinatra and those guys going to the cook-out?”
“It’s okay with me,” I said.
“Are you coming tonight?”
“Well, I told Dick I would. I guess I’ll stop by.”
“You have to come. Are you bringing Alicia?”
“Are you bringing Elektra.”
“I don’t know. I didn’t ask her.”
“You must come.”
Mrs. Rathbone had lowered her chin to her chest and was now apparently sleeping. Steve reached across and took his matchbook out of her fingers. Miss Rathbone was back to reading my poems. I suddenly felt very sleepy myself.
“I think I’m going to lie down,” I said.
“Are you going up to your room?” asked Steve.
“No,” I said. It would be too hot up there. I found I could barely talk I was so sleepy. “I’ll just -- hammock,” I mumbled.
As in a dream I got up from the chair and climbed into the hammock that goes from the oak tree to a hook at the back of the house. I laid my forearm over my eyes. I felt myself suspended between the heavens and the earth.
I breathed in the warmth of the day.
I could hear Steve and Miss Rathbone quietly talking, but their words made no more sense to to me than the sound of the rustling oak leaves above my head.
I fell asleep.
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