In you I feel the east
The tail end of the sun
Which makes me think of the time/ /
I listened only to nocturnes
And felt the breath of the night,
Dwelling in its cold embrace
EARLY MARCH. 1900.
Jack Kelly opened the door slowly and slipped into the darkness of the unlit room. He squinted as his eyes adjusted to the dimness of the room and gently pushed the doorknob behind him in an attempt to close it as soundlessly as possible. Bracing himself, he held his breath until the almost inaudible click of the door shutting was heard. The sudden downpour had caught Jack in its fury, leaving his clothes and hair thoroughly soaked and his eyes wild. He crept through the room, taking slow and careful steps across the wooden floor. Peering through the darkness, he stole a glance at the old clock mounted above the desk of the lodging house. The faint glow from a streetlamp outside was not enough to make the numbers visible on this dark and viciously stormy night. He waited for the next flash of lightning to strike, taking long deep breaths to calm his pounding heart. The smell of must and wetness filled his nostrils. As he had hoped, a streak appeared suddenly outside and illuminated the clock's numbers just enough for Jack to make out three forty nine.
Three forty nine? Had he really been out that late? "Dammit," he whispered under his breath and cursed his foolishness for being out so late. If Kloppman were to wake up and catch him sneaking around at this time of night, he'd have Jack cleaning the stalls in the washroom for weeks as punishment. With this in mind, he tiptoed over to the staircase, and nervously began to make his way up the steps. He chewed on his bottom lip as he usually did when he was in a state of utter concentration. As he sucked it into his mouth, he could still taste the faint traces of blood where the soft skin had been slightly severed. Her. He smiled as he thought of her face and the act they'd just shared in the alley a few blocks away. Even now he could still smell her on his fingers and taste her on his breath/. /
"I'm sorry," she had breathed in a mumbled whisper, after unintentionally biting his lip in a moment of frenzied passion. Her usually hushed voice was now barely audible through his kisses. "Did I hurt you?" He'd, of course, answered with a decided "No," but in truth his lip had stung a bit. He took the pain as a windfall - the burn of it had only intensified his pleasure.
He'd known her only five days. No, five nights, he corrected himself. Only at night had he been in her presence. When he'd asked her about why that was, she'd only shrugged and said, "I'm just that way. Nocturnal. My clock's a bit off, if you know what I mean."
Jack felt his body jerk as a clap of violently resonant thunder shook the room and jarred him from his daydream. He shook his head to jolt himself back into reality, ran his hand through his messy wet hair and continued his ascent.
"Jack is dat you?" a whispered voice called out from the top of the stairs.
"Snipes? Yeah, it's me. Whaddaya doin' up dis late? Get tah bed!" he sternly whispered back.
When he reached the top, Jack was greeted by Snipeshooter, who had evidently not obeyed. "Hey Jack, whatcha been doin' all night?"
"Dat ain't nothin' ya need tah worry bout. Now, go tah bed like I tol' ya to dah foist time befoah ya wake Kloppy up!"
"Alright, alright," he grumbled, "I was just goin' to dah washroom when I hoid-"
"Ssh!" Jack cut him off abruptly.
"Fine den," the younger boy mumbled, turning on his heels and heading back into the bunkroom. He was annoyed at being ordered around and mocked Jack and flipped him off with both middle fingers. He smiled, confident that Jack was blind to his act of blatant defiance by the murky darkness.
Jack made his way into the room of sleeping and snoring boys and fumbled his way to his bed. Once there, he quietly disrobed, tossing his worn shirt and dirty pants on the ground. His red bandanna he tied around the bedpost before gently hoisting himself onto the upper bunk with only one small creak of complaint from the bed.
"Heya Jack," Crutchy sleepily mumbled from underneath him. He had obviously been awakened by the shake and saw of the bed caused by Jack's climb.
"Hey Crutch," Jack responded.
He'd met her on his way home after another long and tiresome day. Night had fallen and shrouded the city streets in a deep fog. Jack walked quickly, his arms grasped tightly around him to keep the moisture and cold out. "Read your fortune, mistah?" a soft feminine voice touched with an English accent called out to him from behind. He turned around to see a raven-haired girl standing behind him, smiling. Her appearance was wintry: her long dark hair framed a pale face with two mirrored pools of black for eyes. Her build was small and slight, and she was clad in dark clothing. A slight wind came up and ripped through the both of them. It ruffled the girl's hair and long skirt, but she seemed unaffected by its chill.
Jack felt around in his pocket to quickly assess his pocket change. When his fingers felt that there was a larger sum of coins than he'd expected, he pulled out a bright copper penny. Flicking it into the air, he asked her, "How much?" As he flicked it once more, she reached up with her small hand and plucked it from the air before he could catch it. "That'll do," she told him assuredly. With a smile, she turned away from him and walked to a corner that was lit by a streetlight. Jack followed her through the midst.
She sat down on the steps of a tenement and motioned for Jack to sit beside her. "Your palm," she requested after he had sat down. He handed her his left, and she took it in hers, lightly brushing a fingertip over his palm. He prickled at her touch, the small hairs on the back of his neck stood up and his heart raced. Her skin was smooth and soft, but her fingers were unbelievably cold. "No, your other one," she softly uttered in the same whispery voice, "You don't use this one."
Jack was a bit taken aback at this statement. He cocked his head to the side as his brow furrowed and his mouth slightly dropped open in confusion. "How'd ya know that?" he questioned.
Without looking at his face, she reached for his other hand, and said, "I know these things." She grasped her thin, icy fingers around his right hand and turned his palm up to face her. Placing his hand on her lap, she traced her finger over his ink-stained palm. "Yes, this is much better." She raised her head and her dark eyes met his. A small grin came across her face. "Your other hand was smooth," she told him after a slight pause, "Your clothing does not suggest that you lead a life of privilege. Now, this one-" she gestured toward his right palm. "It's calloused. This one you use."
She looked at his opened hand in silence for a few seconds before drawing any conclusions. "Ah," she said with, "You've very bold, very determined. I see that you have many friends. They all respect you very much and consider you to be the leader among them...Hmm...but you are somehow not satisfied with this. You're for some kind of adventure, aren't you? Something wilder than the streets of this city."
"What are ya, some kind of gypsy?"
She brought her gaze up to meet his and smiled at him. It was a wise smile that assured him that she knew many things that he did not and perhaps never would know. "I suppose you could say that," was her answer.
From the moment that she had touched his hand, Jack Kelly had become completely taken with her. He was infatuated with her air of mystery - utterly intrigued by the way she looked, talked, and moved. The next day he could not take his mind from her and found himself thinking about more her face than selling his large stack of papers. Instead of advertising made-up headlines with his usual vigor, Jack stared into space, daydreaming and replaying scenes from the previous night in his mind. Yet, he knew nothing about her. After their first encounter, she'd left him with nothing more than a name - /Marion/.
He laid down in his bed, careful to make his movements minimal so as to not wake Crutchy again. Jack pounded his fist into his limp excuse for a pillow, and then rested his head upon it. He yawned deeply and pulling up the thin, threadbare sheet around him, let his mind drift to the day before.
Kloppman/ and the rest of the boys had planned a celebration in honor of Jack's birthday. As night fell, the /Manhattan/ Lodging House was filled with boys from almost every part of the city: /Queens//, the //Bronx//, //Harlem//, Midtown, and even //Brooklyn//. Jack had always been one to make friends wherever he went. They filled almost every room of the house - newsboys playing poker with their arms draped over giggling girls, taking swigs of liquor when old Kloppy wasn't looking, smoking, and dancing to the lively jigs of a makeshift band of musically talented newsies.
Jack had made certain to invite Marion, but two hours into the festivities, he'd still not seen one glimpse of her. Of course, she had given him no promise that she would come. When he delivered his invitation to her the previous night, her response had been cryptic: "Oh, tomorrow's your birthday? How queer. Mine is the day after. Perhaps we were fated to meet after all, Jack Kelly. Our stars seem to have been aligned from birth."
He'd positioned himself in a chair that had a clear view of the entryway and only halfway listened to the jokes and stories that his friends were telling. All of his attention rested on that one large, dark wooden door. At one point, he thought that he had seen her enter. His heart began to pound rapidly in his chest at the site of her long dark hair and fair skin. But when the girl turned around, Jack was dismayed to find that he recognized her as Kid Blink's latest conquest. Disappointed, he returned to his chair and pretended to be interested in listening to Race's drawn out account of his day at Sheepshead Bay.
Noticing his friend's detachment and the intensity with which he was staring at the door, Race sought to bring Jack back into the conversation by making a joke at his expense. "So, where's ya goil, Jack?" Race asked, flicking ashes from his cigar, " I doan think she exists, fellas. She's some kinda ghost... a phantom - a figment of Jacky-boy's imagination!" The group of boys burst out in laughter at Race's musings.
"Yeah, ha, ha, Race," Jack retorted sarcastically. He leaned over to bludgeon Race in the back of the head, but stopped short when he caught sight of the opening door. He paused in mid motion, turning all of his attention to the entryway. A small, slight figure clad in dark clothing stepped inside and softly shut the door. As she lifted her eyes to meet Jack's intent stare, the world around him stopped and blurred to near nonexistence. He quickly abandoned his friends, and rushed to meet her at the door.
"Heya Race," Kid Blink spoke up and motioned toward the door, "I tink dat's your phantom."
"Hey," Jack called out, running a hand through his messy hair as he approached the door, "I thought ya weren't comin'."
"I never said that," was her response, "You should stop making assumptions before you know the truth." She flashed a grin at him and looked over his shoulder to scan the room. "There's quite a few people here," she commented.
Jack nodded in agreement. He watched her shining eyes dart over the crowded room. At once, her traveling gaze stopped. The smile faded from her face, and a worried expression replaced it. He twisted around to see what could have caused the change in her mood and found that her stare was focused on none other than Spot Conlon, who was currently laughing and chattering with a few other boys over a game of poker. Jack watched at Spot looked up and noticed Marion's eyes upon him. Immediately, his laughter stopped and he became silent, his stormy blue eyes returning her stare with increased intensity.
"S'mattah?," Jack asked, turning back towards //Marion//, "You two know each uddah?"
"No, I've never seen him before," she replied, still staring intently.
"Den what's dat look for?/ Ya lookin' at him like he done somethin' to ya.."/
"I don't care for him," she stated matter-of-factly.
"But you never met him. Never even talked to him. How can ya tell?"
"One can tell some things just by looking at him," she brought her eyes to Jack's face, "He's confident. Overly-self assured. He cares for nothing but himself. Look there now, he's got one girl on his lap while he steals glances and shares private unspoken conversations with that beautiful blonde in the corner."
"Who?"/ Jack asked, turning around once again, "Lizzie Connors? Aw, dat's nothin' Spot and her have been friends since dey was born. Dere ain't nothin' between them. Dat goil on his lap though - Raven - she's his hot little number of the month. Those two can't keep their hands off of each uddah."/
Marion shook her head in disagreement. Still retaining the far-off look in her deep eyes, she said, "No, you're wrong. There's something. I can see it." She shook her head slightly as if returning from a trance, and once again, her smile returned. "It's your birthday," she told Jack, "You should be celebrating." She took his arm, and he led her into the sea of people.
A little past an hour after she had arrived, Marion informed Jack that she must be going. Jack objected and urged her to stay, but soon found himself walking out of the door to bid her goodbye. They stood face to face on the sidewalk under a lamp as waves of misty fog crept into the city. "You can't leave by yaself," he protested once more, " A pretty goil like you shouldn't be wanderin' the streets late at night. Lemme walk ya home."
She put a finger to his lips to silence him. "I'll be fine. I promise. Now, go back inside and enjoy your party." With that comment, she turned to leave and soon disappeared into the mist.
After Marion had left, Jack made his way over to Spot, Dutchy, and two other newsies that were engrossed in a game of poker. Raven, Spot's latest girl sat on his lap, softly running her fingers across the back of his neck while he concentrated on the hand of cards recently dealt to him by Dutchy. As Jack sat down beside him, he nodded a hello and looked up at his companion. "Hey Ravy," he said to her, "be a doll and get me somethin' tah drink, will ya?"
Raven looked at Spot inquisitively. "Since when am I your servant?" she challenged him with playful defiance in her voice. She was known for being as tempestuous and fiery as she was beautiful.
Spot flashed her his most winning smile and said to her in his most honey-dripped voice, "Please Ravy? I can't leave now." Raven raised her eyebrows and looked at Spot as though she were deciding whether or not he was worthy of the effort. Finally decided that he was, she conceded, sliding down from his lap and giving him a quick kiss on the lips before departing. "So, Jack," Spot began, tapping his cane on the floor, "Dat goil you were wit earlier was somethin' I must say. Race came round heah earlier talking about some kinda phantom that ya been runnin' around wit. Dat her?"
Jack nodded. "She looked at ya like she knew ya, Spot. What's dat about?"
Spot shrugged. "I dunno. I ain't never seen her befoah." After hearing the defense, Dutchy looked up from his hand, his soft ice blue eyes seemingly questioning the truth in Spot's statement. "Whaddaya lookin' at?" Spot threatened.
"Nothin'," Dutchy shrugged and returned his attention to his hand.
Jack had always lied awake in bed long after the other boys had fallen into a snoring, dream filled sleep. This was the time when his mind was usually filled with visions of Santa Fe and the life he might lead there. But for the past five nights, his thoughts were filled only with her. It wasn't that he minded, though. If anything, he welcomed the distraction. Santa Fe was a dream that he'd long cherished but considered almost unattainable. Marion, however, was attainable.
In his mind, she lingered like a haunting refrain to a song whose lyrics were still indiscernible. Images of her face played before his mind's eye like photographs - pictures of their nocturnal encounters. That night was no different. As the storm raged on outside the window and the rain continued to pour down upon the thin walled structure, Jack's eager mind drifted back to the previous hours. His ears fell deaf to the howling wind and the constant pounding of water on the rooftop as he became immersed in warm visions of hours past.
"Meet me on the corner of 94th and 2nd," she had told him, "Eleven o'clock sharp. Don't be late." Jack promised her that he would, and true to his word, he stood under a streetlamp at the designated corner at ten fifty two. Waiting for her, he relit the butt of a cigarette he'd smoked half of earlier that day. He blew out a puff of smoke and ran his tongue along the inside of his bottom lip, tasting the distinct flavours of old nicotine and newspaper ink that had worked its way inside of his mouth.
As he stood silently awaiting her arrival, he was surprised when a hand reached out and grasped his arm. He could feel the coldness of its fingers through his thin shirt. With a forceful tug, he was pulled into the alley. It led him through the narrow passage, around garbage cans, over old wooden crates, and under rusted pipes and broken gutters. Jack blinked repeatedly, trying to force his eyes to focus in the sudden absence of light. He could vaguely make out a small figure, moving quickly in front of him. Suddenly, the figure stopped halted. Its hold on his arm eased and then released. Jack blinked again, his eyes becoming slightly more adjusted. He could now ascertain that it was feminine - her long skirts and hair were blowing in the gentle breeze. And she was coming closer to him.
Without warning, she took hold of him and slammed his back against the brick wall behind him. Jack gasped as the air was knocked out of his chest. She brought her mouth down upon his and kissed him hungrily. //Marion//. She pulled away slowly, her icy fingers lingering on his face as she retreated, leaving Jack utterly breathless. His eyes had now fully adjusted to the dim light and he could clearly see the features of her pale face, her large dark eyes staring out from under her hair.
"//Marion//," he breathed, "you didn't have to be so rough. It wouldn't have taken any persuadin' tah get me back here, ya know. All ya had to do was ask."
She smiled. "That's not the way I like to do things, Jack Kelly," she whispered coyly, "You should know that." Jack pulled her thin, supple body into his arms, thoroughly enveloping her in his strong embrace. He ran his fingers through her hair, and taking a lock of it to his nose, smelled the fragrance wafting from it - so strange, so exotic. Bringing his hands to her soft face, he pulled her toward him and surrendered to her.
With each maddening kiss, he dove further and further into her dizzying spell. The world around him shook and shifted - his skin tingled as she ran her electrifying touch over his back and sides. Never had he felt more alive. He was oblivious to the cold and the scrape of his skin against the jagged brick - he was only aware of their shallow breaths, the heat of her mouth, and the way she felt against him.
Unable to contain himself, he took hold of her and changed positions. Holding her against the wall, he pushed back her coat, pulled the sleeve of her dress off of her white shoulder, and burned it with kisses as she ran her hands through her hair. 'Jack," she whispered, her voice slightly wavering, "Jack, I want you to take me."
"What?" he asked, a bit stunned, "Heah?"
"Don't make me beg you," she said in a voice laden with quiet intensity. The corner of her mouth rose in an entreating half smile. "We shall be one another's gift."
Jack brought his hand to her face and ran his thumb along her the porcelain skin of her cheek, smearing black ink over its creamy pallor. With one swift movement, he pushed aside her skirt and indulged in the act he'd dreamt of night after night. As she gave herself over to him, Jack quickly noticed that she was trembling. "Is something wrong?" he asked, "Yer shakin'. You want me tah stop?"
Marion shook her head. "No. I'm fine. It's just that I haven't eaten in a while." She smiled and pulled him into another deep kiss. Light rain began to fall around them, gracing their hair and clothing with sparkling pearl-like droplets.
Jack had just begun to drift off into a peaceful slumber when the door to the bunkroom swung open violently and slammed into the wall. A shadowed figure stood in the doorway and burst into the room. His face was red and he held his chest as he gasped for air, out of breath from running with all of his might. He was thoroughly soaked from the rain - his hair was matted to his forehead and his eyes wild.
"Jack!" he shouted, clutching his chest and gasping, "Jack!"
Jack and the other newsies clad only in their undergarments were quickly jolted from their peaceful slumber. They crawled out of bed, moving slowly and groggily as though sleepwalking. When they opened their eyes, they recognized the exhausted boy as Esco, one of Spot's Brooklyn boys with whom they were well acquainted.
"What is it?" Jack asked the Brooklyn newsie anxiously, "S'mattah?"
"It's....." he was still panting heavily, "It's Spot..."
Jack's heart immediately came into his throat as sudden fear and dread gripped his body and made him go cold. "What about him?" he asked in a low voice. The other boys sensed the apprehension in Jack's voice and instantly waves of fear came over them and shrouded the room in a dark cloud.
"What's wrong wit Spot? Huh? Spit it out!" Mush yelled.
Feeling the tension grow, all of the other boys started screaming at once, urging the Brooklyn boy to tell them what he had come to say.
"Shuddap! All o' youse! Shuddap!" Jack screamed over the clamber, "Let 'em talk! For Chrissakes, let 'em talk!" The roar suddenly ceased and a hush fell over the room as they awaited the important news.
"Dat goil Raven had come tah see him earlier," Esco began, "She had stormed into dah room, screamin' at Spot. Tellin' him dat he was a lyin' cheatin' bastahd that she was gonna kill him. Obviously, she found out about dat pretty-faced Lizzie goil dat Spot's been foolin' around wit. Anyway, Spot pushed 'er into his room and den dis big fight stahted. We'se could hear 'em screamin' even wit dah door shut. They was makin a lotta noise - we hoid 'em beatin' on dah walls, stuff breakin'. Dat goil is real vicious. And Spot, he ain't no bettah. They get into fights all tha time - real fights, wit hittin' and all. We figgahed that dere wasn't anythin' unusual goin' on. So we just left 'em alone tah beat each uddah senseless.
Aftah a while, it got kinda quiet again. Tommy, dah liddle one, snuck over tah Spot's room and opened dah door a crack to get a peek inside. He said he saw Spot layin' on his bed wit dah lights out. Said he looked like he was sleepin'. We thought we'd jis leave 'em alone and not distoib him, cause you know how Spot is about stuff like that. And den-" The boy's voice broke as a breath caught in the back of his throat, nearly choking him.
"Come on, Esco," Jack encouraged in a quiet voice.
"An den," he took off his cap and wiped the water and sweat from his brow with his other forearm.
"He's stalling," Jack thought, "Must be really bad."
"Den," Esco continued, "aftah tree hours we still didn't heah nothin'. So a few of us decided to go check on 'em. We knocked on his door and he didn't answer. Spot's a real light sleepah. He woulda hoid us and woke up. So we knocked again. Still nothin'. We woiked up our noive and opened dah door. Spot was still layin' in dat same position on his bed. He was on his side, and his face was lookin' at dah wall. His windah was open too. J.B. walked into dah room and went up to 'em, to ya know, shake him and wake 'em up. He went ovah dere and touched his shoulda and tol' him to wake up. Den J.B. looks at his hand and screams. I ain't nevah hoid a scream like dat come outta nobody, much less J.B!"
He wiped his brow again. "So we all ran ovah dere. We was all shakin and scared. We fumbled around for a match and lit a lamp as quick as we could. When we held it over dah bed, we saw dat his sheets were wet and dahk red!"
Jack closed his eyes. His heart rose into his throat, and he felt a sharp pang in his now twisted stomach. Esco did not have to finish his story for him to know what had happened. While he'd been out having a grand time, his best friend lay in a pool of his own blood, slowly dying with no one to save him. Jack cursed himself, cursed his foolish self-involvement for not sensing the potential danger and preventing the horrible tragedy that befell Spot. However, in his heart he knew that there was nothing that he could have done to save him.
Esco's voice had now risen to a frenzied panic. "It was dat goil, Jack. Dat bitch Raven!" he exclaimed, "Her and dat damn pocket knife o'hers! Dere was two cuts on his neck where she slashed 'im. One down the side and da uddah across his troat! She cut his troat and den climbed outta dah window so none of us would find her!"
"What tha hell are ya doin heah den?!?" Race shouted, lunging toward Esco, and grabbing him by the collar as he shook him violently. "Shouldn't you be out dere lookin' for her?!?"
Esco pushed Race off of him with a violent shove. "Dat's what we'se tryin tah do! Every last one o' us is out dere, combing the streets trying to find dat goil! I came ovah heah to see if any of you'se had seen er!"
All of the boys sadly shook their heads in dissent. Jack looked around at the others. Their fearful eyes were upon him, awaiting some kind of comfort - some words of wisdom from their leader to tell them how to feel, what to do. His heart was heavy and the pain in his chest was great. What could he tell them? What could he say to these boys who looked to him for advice? He found himself at an utter loss for words. His heart pounded, each beat resounding like the thunder outside and bruising his chest.
"What are we goin' tah do, Jack?" Dutchy asked, his voice low and mournful - voicing the collective sorrow that all of the newsies in the room were feeling.
He opened his mouth to speak, his troubled gray eyes filled with pain and confusion. He was choked by the emotion welling up and making the back of his throat burn and his eyes sting. Not to mention that he was also exhausted by what he had been told and the multitude of difficulties that it had brought on. When he finally uttered words, his voice was one of a worn and weary leader, who's own heart was filled with an overwhelming multitude of fear and sorrow. "Find her," he muttered, his tone resigned and angry, "I doan care what ya hafta do. Jis' find her. And when ya get ya hands on 'er, bring her back heah. I doan give a damn what anybody else says, I wanna see her foist."
Sign up to rate and review this story