Patsy

Patsy

I close my eyes and I see her standing at the microphone. Blue smoke curling up from her cigarette holder. Black velvet dress. Diamonds. Silver hair, swept up and back. Throat smooth in the dim lights. Before the martinis take hold and her lids become heavy, and her voice can still move you, stop the room, if only for a moment of pure, perfect silence. Standing in the garden in winter between sets, snow falling into the folds of her sable coat as she pulls on a joint. Silver and sable and smoke.

I come around the bar and open the back door and say, ‘Patsy, Billy wants you to – ’

‘Screw Billy,’ she says, her voice just beginning to turn. She holds out the joint. There’s a hole in her black, fur-trimmed glove. ‘Take a hit of this. Best weed on the street, baby. On the fucking planet.’ Smoke and silver and sable and ice. Before the martinis took over. Before she had to hock the coat, the diamonds left over from the good days. When she could still hold a crowd at Freddy’s Supper Club, the Blue Note on Monday nights. Before her only gigs were waitressing at the diner on 8th Street, where she served melon on ice and eggs over easy, and someplace else, some midtown coffee shop; working two jobs to get her teeth fixed and still couldn’t pay the rent. Holed up for the winter in that hovel on 7th Street: barren, broken walls, naked light bulb swinging from the ceiling. Mattress on the floor, one ratty pillow without a case. The counterman at Leshko’s slipping her brisket sandwiches on the sly, wrapped in gravy-stained napkins to take home. She could only afford coffee and a tip. They knew what it cost her, even if it was only ten cents.

‘I live to sing,’ she told me once, on a Tuesday afternoon in summer. No make-up. Wearing beige suede pumps she’d bought at the Bargain Center on First Avenue. ‘It’s my life,’ she said, downing the martini. Pushing her glass forward for another.