Love has become a crime in this city. I sit here on a concrete bench behind iron bars for one crime and one crime only--loving too much. How can that even be? How can one “love too much?” It is an absurd notion. Absolutely absurd.
I blame a cruel system and cruel families--his family! They dare to speak for him, but I’m the only one who still hears his voice. I can hear it even now. His heart calls to me from that dingy crypt they’ve locked him in. His family are the real ghouls!
My lover’s voice is steady and kind. “Our love can break this wall just as it pierced the veil that separated us.”
I still remember the first time I saw him on the screen. His hair dark as soot and his cheeks pink as clam flesh. What a striking figure he was. A brave knight during one matinee and a motorcycle rebel the next. Always such a twinkle to him, so much more than just charisma.
It is a certain kind of magic that exists on the silver screen. He spoke to me from up there and he could hear me, too, through that magic. He could hear my love and I could hear his thoughts, his loneliness, and his desire for something real. Nothing could have been as real as my love.
Nothing was more real than my loneliness.
I stood in the crowd on Hollywood Boulevard watching the search lights patrol back and forth. I waited for the long black cars and the flickering flashing of the photographers to tell us that the stars were down here with us. I saw him and called his name confidently above the squeals of pimple-faced trollops. He heard his lover’s voice and waved. His voice whispered to my heart, “soon, my love, but I must do my work.” So dedicated he was. Such a giver of himself.
I left that sad group of dreamers on the boulevard and took the early bus home. Why should I wait out there when I knew my love would come when he could? I wasn’t like that pitiful lot with their sweat-sogged autograph books with illegible scrawl. I had love.
When I first heard the grave news, I was drinking tea. My heart stopped. The shattering of porcelain on the kitchen tile snapped me out of it. A crashed car, a shattered tea cup. Oh my, the parallels!
It was an elaborate ruse and so dangerous. What if his family believed in cremation for goodness sakes? I understood why he couldn’t reveal it to me ahead of time, but just between us, it still stung a little. It was his only way out and he trusted me to be smart enough to figure out the truth.
I knew I had to act, but not hastily. I couldn’t just go off like a madwoman. I bided my time and collected the tools: bolt-cutters, wheelbarrow, a large canvas bag and a .22 just in case. I walked the cemetery in the daylight and visited that garish crypt often. My lover was deep down a simple man and would have balked at that vomit brick his greedy family put him in. I placed flowers but really was examining the lock, looking at the sight-lines from the main path, planning every detail. I was so clever. He loves that about me.
When the time came, I walked the miles to the cemetery, pushing the wheelbarrow that carried the tools to set my lover free. I ached to hear his voice again, I hadn’t heard it since that day. I was so empty then, but that emptiness gave me drive, it gave me a quest. The princess was going to save her knight. What a turnaround!
In the quiet dark of night, I cut the chain on the gate with the bolt-cutter and made my way to the crypt. With a few swings of the heavy tool, I smashed the lock. I had to calm my anticipation and hold out for just a little longer just to be safe. I waited in a dark corner with the pistol out waiting to see if the watchman had heard the noise. After a time and no response or alarm, I took a deep breath. In that moment, I swear it was like a sweet drip of honey to my ears, he called to me.
“Hello. I’ve longed for you.”
I pulled open the drawer with strength born of righteous passion and he was there just waiting. He looked as handsome as ever to me. Love is stronger than rot, you see. I wiggled and rolled him into the canvas bag and slumped him into the wheelbarrow and we started the long walk home.
We lived in tender bliss those first few months. He really got to know me, a deeper me than I had ever shared with someone before. I said aloud names and places that I hadn’t spoken of in decades. It wasn’t one-sided, though, I got to know him, too. I didn’t know his sense of humor was so quirky and that he loved games or that he was such a good storyteller. I would kneel beside him, my head resting on his lap, careful not to let leaking fluid get inside my ear, and be swept away by his tales.
I took such good care of him. I sponged him everyday and changed his clothes and linens when they’d get smelly...which was nearly everyday. And when his left eye fell out of the socket, I first replaced it with a very ornate button from my mother’s favorite overcoat. Eventually, I put something more appropriate in the spot when I found a marble that matched his original eye color.
Now, I couldn’t say no to him even when I knew I should. I made the mistake over breakfast one day of mentioning that a second-run theater was showing one of his pictures The one where he played the idealistic young music teacher who goes to work in a small town. He gets the town to accept rock n’ roll music and falls for the mayor’s daughter. She was a trampy looking thing, but I’m not jealous. He sang a song at the end that became a modest hit. He was a little embarrassed by it saying, “When I took the part I didn’t think they’d actually make me sing!” I thought it was a beautiful song--a down tempo ballad like “Tammy.” Truth be told, his singing voice was no great shakes, but I’d hum the chorus all the time.
He wanted to get out and see himself in his heyday so, like a fool, I agreed. I sprayed him down with disinfectant and cologne--I’m not crazy, I know his natural musk isn’t for everyone. I put on my fanciest frock, painted my nails and lips, and we were ready for our night out. We deserved this, didn’t we? Why should we stay shuttered away?
My first mistake was calling for a taxi, but what was I supposed to do? The wheelbarrow was too unwieldy for the bus! The cabbie arrived on time and was polite at first, then he clearly got star-struck. You think cabbies in this town would be used to it by now, but he was all stammering and clumsy helping me get my love into the car and then the wheelbarrow strapped to the trunk. My love whispered to me with pleasure, “I’m still a star.” I smiled at him and patted his cheek, but I of course, I already knew that.
After unloading the wheelbarrow from the taxi, I took great care in getting my love situated and presentable--straightened tie, loosened jawbone back in place, et cetera. We rolled up to the box office and the little man at the counter looked aghast when I asked for two tickets. He was just like that cabbie, completely tongue-tied around a famous person. My second mistake was confirmation when the box office man spurted out “Is he-!” I shushed him and whispered, “of course it’s him, he just wanted to see himself on the screen again. But we insist on paying for two tickets. No special treatment.” I tossed him the money and I rolled my lover inside.
During the movie, he told me little secrets about the cast and anecdotes about the director, who was definitely not a communist, but may have attended one or two meetings on a lark. I know it’s silly but I beamed with pride at seeing him up there. He gave all that up for little old me. I’d look from the screen down to the gorgeous man next to me. The thick head of hair was now thinner and only existed in delicate patches, some of it affixed with staples. His skin not as pink, but grayer and greener and splotchier in the face. And as we all do with age, he was softer around his middle--and his upper and his lowers for that matter--but the point is he was still every bit as desirable to me as he was all those years ago.
When it came to the end of the movie and he starts singing that sad song, I couldn’t help myself, I just sang along. I didn’t care who looked, and boy did that audience have all of it’s eyes on me. I’ve never seen so many double-takes and gap-mouthed stares. My love joined in and we sang it as a glorious duet. Now in hindsight, it may have been the crescendo of our love symphony, for when the lights came up awful, ugly men in uniforms were waiting for us.
Apparently, that damnable box office oaf or that simpering cab driver spilled the beans to the press and then word got out to the world where we were. His family didn’t approve of our relationship, and citing some archaic law or statute, had called the police. We could not let them separate us without a struggle, and since my love was in no shape to resist, I did so for us. It took four of those brutes to subdue me, but I gave as good as I got for as long as I could. I can still taste the cartilage from the policeman’s ear.
So here I am, locked away. Guards either laugh or walk by me warily. A lawyer has tried to talk to me, but he sounds like an idiot or thinks he’s talking to an idiot or a small child, and not a grown woman in love. I can sometimes faintly hear the radio from the desk outside the cells. I hear my lover’s name and my name mentioned in the same breath and it is almost intoxicating. I had never heard them out loud together. I get chills. They seem to talk about us a lot. A guard walked by hurriedly with a newspaper that I swear had our picture from outside the movie theater.
My lover tries to comfort me, but the voice is so faint. I know they’ve locked him away again and they probably used a sturdier lock this time. They just don’t understand what real love is! I’ll break a thousand locks if I have to and I told them that in the courtroom during my arraignment. The press seemed to like that line. I’ll find a way to get us back together, if they ever let me out. The idiot lawyer thinks it will be quite a long time before that happens, but he is an idiot.
Now an odd thing happens, the radio is talking about us again. They play the song from the movie. They say it’s the most requested song they’ve ever had. It’s faint but I hear them taking calls from the public. The callers are on our side--on MY side. They get it. They understand love. How can loving someone so much be a crime? Absurd, I say.
I hear a commotion outside the jail. It sounds like people and honking horns. I hear the song being played, but not from the radio inside, it’s coming from outside. The guards are incredulous. The lawyer is there and I think he may not be an idiot after all. He looks at me with a mix of surprise and hope.
My lover’s voice is soft, “don’t risk it, just agree.” So I do.
As I walk outside, the crowd cheers. It’s like my own opening on Hollywood Boulevard. They carry signs extolling love and they carry pictures of the two us. Some wave and others thrust autograph books toward me--little old me. The public outcry has freed love from the proverbial shackles, but the system has made me agree to shackle myself.
How can I now agree to denying our love after this display of understanding and support? How can I stay away? Our love is out there for the world to see and they love our love. I cannot allow us to be so selfish. I cannot deny myself and I cannot deny them of seeing the true happiness that will come from our reunion. We will not hide away.
I’m going to break a lot of locks before we’re through.
Art by Andy Manley