Amphetamines and Pearls (Short Story)

Evelyn McHale was beautiful. She was fond of jazz and smoked elegant cigarettes imported from Paris. Evelyn was engaged to be married. He was a handsome man, dark and chiselled, and they made a lovely couple. But Evelyn was unhappy, deeply sad. She wore this mantle lightly and let no one close. In fact Evelyn always cut ties. She had worked as an airhostess and when she finished there she had burned her uniform. Something about fire, or perhaps destruction, made her feel clean. She moved on from there leaving her old life in ashes. Now, however, Evelyn was getting married. She was putting down roots. It surprised her.

Evelyn suffered from terrible migraines and her doctor had put her on a course of Benzedrine. It was modern medicine at its finest she was told. It did little to help her. She would feel conversely euphoric and then irritatingly angry. The Benzedrine kept her up all night and her lack of sleep was driving her mad.

So it was on a cold blustery December morning that Evelyn pulled on her white gloves and her fur coat and boarded the train. Her fiancé Mark was headed into the city and Evelyn journeyed with him. Evelyn loved New York City. The bustle of people that became ever dwarfed as the city grew taller.

“When is your doctor’s appointment Evelyn?”

Evelyn looked at her watch; it was just after nine.

“Ten o’clock.”

“Try and get something to help you sleep. You look exhausted.”

Evelyn got off in the village leaving Mark on the train. She found a small room in a large hotel building and booked it out. Just for the afternoon, Evelyn did not need it for any longer. She sat at the small desk, removed her gloves and scrawled a quick note.

‘I don’t want anyone to see me. I don’t want to be remembered. I don’t want a grave, just cremation. I would not have made a very good wife anyway. I have too many of my mother’s tendencies.’

Evelyn folded the paper carefully and put it in her coat pocket. She opened her handbag and removed a string of pearls. She put them around her neck gently. She looked like a movie star, beautiful yet tragic. She painted her lips red, and carefully disguised the black bags that hung heavy under her eyes. She left the hotel. She hailed a cab and headed for 5th Avenue, downtown.

Manhattan crawled past her. It was a dirty, filthy place and from her taxicab it seemed to move in time to some unheard music. People drifted forwards and back almost like they were dancing a waltz. Evelyn clutched her purse close, her gloved hands, long and elegant, now taught and restless. Her mind was elsewhere. The sounds and the smells of the city seemed distant to her. She moved between everything in slow motion. She felt like if she looked carefully she would see cameras. It was too perfect not to be a movie set.

The taxi pulled up outside the Empire State Building. Evelyn paid the cab driver and exited the car. She stood in front of the tall building and looked up. The building seemed staggered and almost Biblical in proportion. It reminded her of the tower of Babel. It was arrogant and opulent. Evelyn entered the tall building and bought a ticket for the observation deck. She waited and got in the lift when it arrived. There were stairs but too many. An elevator man doffed his hat.

Evelyn stood in silence.

“Meeting someone up there ma’am?”

Evelyn looked over at the doorman.

“Just the view.”

The doorman nodded, “Quite the view from up there. You can see right up the Hudson.”

Evelyn smiled politely. It wasn’t the natural sublime that interested her but the man made. The elevator man watched her carefully. There was a sadness that surrounded her but it did little to mar her beauty. The man drank her in. Her long legs made even longer by her high-heeled shoes. The elevator dinged its way up to the 40th floor. Evelyn got off and joined the small crowd. She drank in the view. The staggered skyscrapers from the financial district stood like jagged teeth and central park, was a carefully drawn oasis, sunk between the bricks and glass.

Evelyn took off her coat and folded it carefully. She placed it on the floor and then walked to the edge of the building. She looked down towards the pavement. It was dizzyingly high. Her stomach flipped.

On the street below the Empire State building Charlie Williams slurped a mug of black coffee. The little coffee shop was dark and quiet. Charlie’s film camera sat on the table in front of him. Charlie scratched his patchy beard and pushed his glasses back up his nose. They were always falling down and getting in his way. It was even more of a problem in his profession.

Charlie was a junior photographer for the New York Times. His photo’s had mostly been of restaurants for the food review section. He was young and ready for a challenge. He kept his eyes open but nothing exciting ever seemed to happen to him. He placed his mug on the table and headed for the exit.

Evelyn stepped back from the edge of the parapet. She looked around her. There were very few people up here. It was a cold blustery day and couples huddled together for warmth. Evelyn felt very alone and anonymous. It was just the way she liked it.

Evelyn had grown up with seven sisters. She was born somewhere in the middle. Growing up for her had been a collective experience. She had been able to keep quiet and out of the way. For most of her childhood she had remained invisible. Her fiancé and their impending marriage scared her. She felt like she was putting down roots. She was scared she had already revealed too much to her fiancé. She was terrified that she had lost her mystery.

Evelyn looked around her. The city seemed so small and insignificant. She looked up at the sky.

“I’ve never been this close to god.”

Then Evelyn walked simply to the edge of the building and stepped off. She did it with no fuss. She quietly disappeared. The stunned silence of the crowd matched Evelyn as she held her breath. She wondered if she could hold it the whole way down. Evelyn fell gracefully towards the ground. For her it went very slowly. Everything was quiet.

Charlie stepped out into the street as a loud noise, like gunfire, echoed around him. People started running. Charlie looked around and saw a battered and dented car with United Nations plates. Sprawled on the top was a beautiful young woman clutching a string of pearls. Charlie took his photo.

There was something beautiful about Evelyn’s body. Her head seemed to be cradled gently by the twisted metal and was framed by a pool of blood. To Charlie it looked like a halo. Evelyn seemed to be some sort of imperfect angel. She was so young but empty of life. Evelyn just wanted to be forgotten. Charlie, well, Charlie wanted to be remembered.

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