“Try not to be seen. But if, in a particular circumstance, such a thing cannot be helped, do all you can to keep the duration brief. The same as you do at the residence. To be asked to serve at the formal opening of the parlor is quite an honor, and you should know I put in quite a few good words on your behalf with the hosts. If you do a good job, there will be something extra in it for you at the end of the evening. Of that you may be certain.”
Susan smiled stiffly, then nodded, acknowledging that she understood Mr. Chambers’ directions and what was expected of her. The parlor event was expected to be quite the affair, attracting not only the esteemed residents of the El Moore, but also well-monied guests from throughout Detroit, the type who expected nothing but the best.
Susan had encountered this particular class of folk before, on more than one relatively unpleasant occasion. Which meant that she actually understood much better what was expected of her than Mr. Chambers, even though he considered himself being helpful when trying to describe the dos and don’ts for the evening.
Of course, Mr. Chambers, who had been her employer for several months now, and was a decent enough man, had no way of knowing – nor would he have cared – that Susan had only recently met a particular gentleman during a relatively rare night off, and she and he (his name was also Jonathan, the same as her employer, but she considered him to be far superior when it came to looks, much more sturdy) had made plans to try and spend some time together on that very same evening. Perhaps take a walk. Naturally she had cautioned him, as she was now in the habit of cautioning all of her acquaintances, and even close friends and family members, that it was rather difficult to count on any plans she made as certain “because my life has never actually quite belonged to me.”
Jonathan had smiled, as someone who understood only too well. She liked his eyes.
When the fabulous evening arrived, Mr. Chambers made a point of discreetly edging toward where Susan was standing near the corner of the room, not being seen as instructed, and whispered what a wonderful job she was doing at erasing herself in plain view. It was as if no one noticed her at all, he said.
Susan smiled. Nodded. She tried to remember Jonathan’s eyes.
Freddy sat near the edge of the parlor, a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other. The joint was kicking in from earlier, which made the otherworldly sounds of Funkadelic’s “Wars of Armageddon” come as close to divine madness as anything he had ever heard.
He turned his attention to James, his roommate, who was sitting next to him, calmly absorbing the semi-festive atmosphere of what neither one of them could believe was the El Moore’s last party. It just seemed wrong. All wrong. The room was packed with all sorts, which was what had always made the El Moore so cool and special, he thought. That strange but perfect mix of Detroit humanity. The kind of thing that seemed to feed the artist in him.
James squinted his dark eyes, the only part of him darker than his skin. He chuckled.
“So this is really it then, huh, Freddy? The end of the line? Wow. I just never…wow.”
“Yeah…” said Freddy. “Yeah. I know. Me either.”