Read an Excerpt
She had had her taste of men. In fact, she had had her fill of them. She had been married to the same Lamont Lester-Allegro for some twenty odd years. But her stretch, long and checkered, as a stool warmer at too many hedonistic haunts tailor-made for single black Baldwin Hills bourgies was a smoky testament to her dissatisfaction on the home front. Although her outings usually proved anemic they were frequent enough to cause her older best friend and fellow barfly, Elaine, to jokingly snap-read, "You should get out less."
She couldn't agree more. But she did truly enjoy her addiction to the candy-store view of pretty young black men at bargain time. This was when sophisticated soul sisters stripped of their ladyisms and armored with their charge cards, condoms, and Slauson Arms motel room keys pushed and shoved past her to have the dark, fresh, and fleshy goods displayed before them.
It was 1989, spring; maybe summer, and every evening, after her NAACP meetings and Links teas and before her bid whist games with Lydia, Arleta, and Elaine, Maggie Lester-Allegro found herself propped up on her favorite stool at
Nuts 'n' Bolts without any awareness of how she got there and no recollection of any prethought in the matter of the vigil. She only knew that she was in automatic drive.
She licked the chilly salt rim of her double margarita and checked out the dim room full of pirates and treasures.
The incongruity of her physical presence among these "other" sisters baby sisters, pimpled spinsterettes of the happy hour playing in their mothers' high heels, beads, and lipstick, was not lost on her. She smiled in mock deference for she knew that those who filled her immediate surroundings were classes below her in style, looks, and attitude.
She was reminiscent of Diana Ross all eyes, shoulders, and a hair-weave cascade and sometimes she seemed to carry herself like some grand mystic bush queen. But more often than not she would slip loosely from her dark, regal stance, like on this occasion as she licked too desperately at the chilly salt rim of her cocktail.
Maggie Lester-Allegro came across like the kind of woman who should have been called by her formal given slave name, Margaret, as in "Oh, Maaaaaahgret daaaaahling!" and she seemed like someone who should have been a heavy frequenter of the old Perino's on Wilshire Boulevard during its heyday back in the 1930s when it was the sacred trough to platinum stars.
But the new piss-elegant Nuts 'n' Bolts in the Baldwin Hills Plaza was where she hung. Hung. Hung drunkenly and conspicuously like some antique drape in a neon setting. Hung. Hung as in "hung around," as in, "Is it time for me to die?"
You see, Maggie Lester-Allegro had long ago resigned herself to her husband's neglect, knowing that she was merely one of his many trophies acquired seasons ago and left upon a dusty mantel of prominence. After all, Lamont Lester-Allegro had family legacy to live up to and personal demons to live down. Lester-Allegros were known for being the first black everything that could be distinguished by being the first black anything in a world that relished firsts. Doctor Lamont Lester-Allegro, a third-generation Lester-Allegro, was known for only that: being a Lester-Allegro, one of no particular distinction, merely a hanger-on by blood.
As Maggie sat at the bar perusing the trade, she recalled with liquor-heavy smirks and moans the night Queen of Outer Space played on the Z channel and Lamont insisted on watching it even though HBO was airing Lady Sings the Blues. Zsa Zsa over Miss Ross? Oh please! Maggie could only credit the choice to her husband's sense of taste when faced with camp, and yet...
"Now that's a real woman!" Lamont had said ogling the TV monitor while a young Zsa Zsa broke English and his proper Negro heart.
Maggie fluffed it off or seemed to especially in light of the fact that he had confessed after a night of too much Courvoisier and cocaine that he once let a gorgeous brickhouse, during his cum-too-quick college youth, suck him off like some rimmed Tootsie Roll pop. But the drop-dead brickhouse turned out to be a drop-dead drag queen with enough dick of her own to hog-tie a judge. So what did he, Lamont, know about a real woman, much less appreciating one? Alas, this was how Miss Maggie Arial Lester-Allegro justified her more-than-occasional pilgrimage to the bar called Nuts 'n' Bolts.
She had ordered another double margarita. Just as Shabaka-Letrice, the waitress, set it down in front of her, she thought she saw Dorian Moore beautiful Dorian Moore reflected in the mirror behind the bar. She held back her startle when she realized that the only face staring back at her that she even remotely found of sentimental interest was her own. What she had thought was him was only the recollection of him, a recollection that flashed brightly in her lazy bloodshot eyes.
He was just a boy, a black-as-midnight boy with black-as-midnight eyes surrounded by thick black lashes languid enough and groomed enough to sweep stardust aside. He had sparkling white teeth framed by lips made full enough to tell a thousand lies.
She sipped at her drink and felt a warmth deep down inside that place that made her blank to all that surrounded her vintage self, blank to the music and the madness, the hustlers and the hustled.
She remembered when they first saw each other in the crowded room, like in the song. Lunch hour at Serenity. It was almost a year ago to the day. There he was. Right where Elaine had said he would be. Maggie had been sitting at a preferred table, picking over hot duck salad and dishing the dirt with Elaine, when she looked up and saw him at the bar, his smiling, dimpled blackness sucking her into his unknown. He quite literally took her breath away. She gasped a tiny little gasp. He saw her see him and he laughed, suddenly, kindly one of those silent, private laughs. His eyes sparkled with new mystery.
"Well, I think I've stayed too long at the fair," Elaine said with a naughty little victory smile. Then she got up and left, giving the beautiful young man a nod of approval as she passed his way.
Maggie had guessed him to be twenty-one. Maybe. There or about. So she felt flattered and confident in her goods, knowing that she was still lovely and shapely enough for hearty young men half her age. With eyes smiling at her, he got up from the bar and walked slowly toward her table. Her eyes smiled back and invited him to sit.
Magnanimously she allowed him to speak his sweetness and buy her a drink. She pretended to blush when he gave her the detailed directions to his place, which was not far at all, just up Mount Vernon Drive.
She even pretended not to know why she so readily accepted this new chance and adventure, but accept she did. She left the bar ahead of him and pulled herself together with each step; the Diana Ross eyes and shoulders and the hair-weave cascade. By the time the attendant had brought her Mercedes around she was feeling better having pulled it together, knowing that the kindness of a child was hers to do with as she pleased.
Copyright © 2001, 2005 by Stanley Bennett Clay