MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
A man sits on a patio, wrapped in a blanket and staring out to sea. It is cold in California this time of year, though much better than in New York, which is why he winters on this coast. He is old enough to do what he wants. Let someone else worry about logistics at the office, who’s billing what hours, and the clients they should woo. He’s sworn a hundred times he’ll retire. Soon. Very soon.
His secretary comes outside. She wears a blue suit, and blue heels but in a different shade.
“Any luck?” he asks.
She frowns and extends the sealed envelope his way.
“It’s the best I could do,” she says.
The man turns the letter over in his hand, then tosses it onto a nearby table. He should probably ask her to type the address, as the woman’s penmanship resembles that of a teenage girl. If teens wrote things by hand anymore. Oh, who cares. The destination is legible. Good enough.
“It’s fine,” he says, and leans into his chaise, eyes closed. “Thank you.”
The secretary waits for further direction as the envelope flutters in the breeze. Before he meanders off into sleep, she has to ask.
“Do you think it’s true?” she says.
At first, he doesn’t answer. She assumes he’s fallen asleep but, really, he’s taking his time.
“We first met,” he says, causing her to jump, “fifty years ago.”
He opens one eye, and then the other.
“And over the decades she said many things.”
He chuckles through his nose.
“Many things,” he repeats. “Outrageous claims were made, some of which would make international news. But as to whether I believe it? I’ve never been able to decide. Not that my opinion matters. The only thing we can do is send the letter and wait for a response.”
CRUISING CASANOVAS ARE A BAD RISK
The Boston Daily Globe, August 20, 1950
HYANNIS PORT, MASSACHUSETTS
The government wouldn’t deport her, she didn’t think.
Alicia was unclear on the particulars, but when a person emigrates to the United States under somewhat ill-begotten circumstances, she is not particularly inclined to raise her hand. She was probably safe, because where might they send her? Alicia was no longer a citizen of Poland, and they couldn’t return her to the German camp. This was, she supposed, the upside to her statelessness. To be deported, you needed a home.
For a second, Alicia felt relief. Then she remembered a story she read, about a refugee who’d spent years on a ship, circling the globe, no port willing to let him through, like a crate of damaged goods.
Alicia sent up a quick prayer—or something like it—that Irenka would come through with the job.
“I do vat I can,” she’d said in her choppy, harsh accent. “But no promisink.”
A risky thing, to bet it all on a maid from Poland. But she had no other options on Cape Cod.
At least she had this job, her part-time work at the Center Theatre. She tried to wheedle Mr. Dillon into more hours, but he was rigid as a German.
“You can help George and Dewey during peak times,” he’d said. “That’s all I’m able to offer.”
George was the Center’s projectionist, a spindly man with a swoop of black hair and oversized black-rimmed glasses. Alicia thought the person running films should have better vision, but George seemed to do okay.
Dewey was the counter clerk, though he spent most of his time taking smoke breaks behind the stately brick building, or sometimes right in front, beneath the black and gold awning.
“No more than ten hours per week,” Mr. Dillon said, “and only through the Indian summer.”
“How about twenty?” Alicia countered, having noted Dewey’s lack of industry.
“How about seven?” Mr. Dillon returned.
“But this is the perfect job for me. The first cinema in Poland was built in my hometown, in 1899. My mother was very proud of this. She’d tell any out-of-towner who’d listen!”
When Alicia first stepped inside the Center, her heart sang, for she’d finally, after nearly a year, found something in America that reminded her of home. Though the room was empty at the time, it remained grand with its red velveteen chairs and wide, noble balconies. She could almost hear the whoosh of the curtains and the sound of her mother’s laughter tumbling over time and space.
“We probably saw twenty films a year,” Alicia added. “In the good years, that is.”
“Listen, I don’t have to hire you at all,” Mr. Dillon said, unimpressed with her cinematic background.
“Ten sounds fine,” she’d mumbled, accepting brisk defeat, though this did not stop her from making one last request.
“Can I display my art in the lobby?” she asked. “You see, I’m a painter—”
“Do whatever the hell you want,” Mr. Dillon said. “As long as it doesn’t bother the customers. Or me.”
As luck would have it, Mr. Dillon spent most of his time managing the Hyannis Theatre, over on the swankier side of town. Alicia was glad she’d picked the Center. Mr. Dillon wasn’t apt to let a homeless Pole display her work on the glitzy west end.
Alicia stepped behind the counter. She could probably leave, as these were hardly “peak hours.” Sunday matinees rarely were. In her brain, Alicia added up the time she’d worked that week. Should she push it to eleven hours, or twelve?
Alicia crouched down and slid one row of Boston Beans flush with another. The display looked sharp, artful almost. She let herself feel proud, and wished she could show Irenka.
“You vant to clean?” her friend had shirked when Alicia showed up on her doorstep last week, fresh off the bus from Oklahoma City.
“I don’t want to clean per se,” Alicia told her, “but being a maid would tide me over…”
“A maid! Bah! You cannot do maid! You terrible wit cleanink!”
Maybe so, but Alicia didn’t plan to sweep floorboards for the rest of her life, and she could fake it well enough, for now.
“You still selling?” asked a voice.
Alicia jumped up. She shook her head, and the room blurred.
“Oh! Yes! Sorry!” she said, the man’s Boston accent prickling the hairs on her neck. “I thought everyone was inside.”
When Alicia caught eyes with the guest, everything inside her body seized. Before her stood a man, tall and tanned, with mussed reddish-brown hair and an untucked white shirt. He grinned, corner to corner, eyes crinkling at the edges.
“Wow, I must’ve really thrown ya,” the man said.
“I apologize,” Alicia said, panicked. “I wasn’t expecting anyone to be out here. The second showing of the movie just began. If you hurry, you won’t miss a minute. It’s In the Foreign Legion.”
As if he couldn’t read the marquee. Mentally, Alicia rolled her eyes.
“Yeah. I know how it works,” he said. “Stahrting from two fifteen, continuous. I prefer to sneak in late.”
He pushed a chunk of hair from his forehead, and Alicia found herself mimicking the gesture. He caught this, and winked, causing Alicia to jolt once more.
It wasn’t the man’s handsomeness. He was attractive, no question, but he was also gangly, too thin. His hair was bushy and his head preposterously oversized compared to his reedy frame. Any objective poll would place his looks well below Ty Power’s or William Holden’s, yet there remained something special about him, something beautiful that had little to do with actual presentation.
Copyright © 2018 by Michelle Gable