The Love of My Life?
First Chapter of The Love of My Life? this novel-within-the-novel is written by Sicily and threads its way through the larger narrative, Traveling through Sicily. Is this piece of magic realism the truth about the teenage Sicily, or yet another fabrication?
Sicily sat on the bed in the hotel room. The uncurtained window was being rattled and pelted by the sharp attack of raindrops. Across the room, captured in a rectangle of light, was the dumbshow version, translucent and streaming down the green-papered wall. Bizarro rain, she thought, the exact opposite of real rain on planet earth. She sat in this hotel room alone, but her twin self was visible in the mirror. Her Bizarro self. She avoided the mirror and focused instead on the water stain beneath the windowsill that formed the face of the devil—one of those jolly, leering devils with a moustache and goatee and short jaunty horns. He reminded her of a younger Mr. Jenkins, her Mr. Jenkins. She personally didn’t think the devil was at all evil. The devil just behaved outside the rules. That’s why the devil had so much fun. Just like her and Mr. Jenkins. People wouldn’t understand. They would say that Mr. Jenkins is the devil and that he and Sicily should both burn in hell.
Near the window and the devil stain was a dresser with a mirror on top. She looked back at herself sitting on the bed, bare to the waste, her small breasts partially covered by two plaits of her long red hair. It looked to her, like her hair was the only color in the room. The rest of the room was the color of pale green water. An almost invisible color, hardly a color at all. Her face was solemn and still, as if she was waiting for something momentous to happen. “I am pretty,” she told her reflection. “Mr. Jenkins said so. He said, many men will love me but nobody will love me like he does.”
The door burst open and Mr. Jenkins entered the room. He was wearing a cape that he twirled and flourished, flashing the red silk lining, then the black velvet drape as he danced slowly towards her. She clapped her hands and gave him a wrinkled nose smile that delighted him. “Like a little witch,” he said touching the tip with his finger. Then he bent over and lightly kissed her breast. She placed her hand over the spot, scooped up the kiss, popped it in her mouth and swallowed. He laughed looking pleased. “You little mimic. I taught you that.”
She gave him a sly look. “Can you do magic?” she asked.
“Yes,” he nodded. “Yes I can.”
“I can make you visible.” And he waved his hands over her and exclaimed, “Poof. Other people can see you. Poof. Make this child be seen by the world.” He sat beside her on the bed and turned her chin with his fingers so that she was facing her reflection in the mirror.
“That’s not the world. That’s just us in the mirror,” she said.
“Ah, but it’s our world. But if you insist, we shall go outside and see if the magic works.”
“Oh yes,” she said jumping up from the bed. “Oh please, let’s.”
She plucked her t-shirt from the covers of the bed and pulled it quickly over her head not bothering to tuck it into her jeans. Mr. Jenkins bowed and opened the door. She passed through, carrying herself with a sense of poise well in advance of her thirteen years.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Jenkins," a fat lady with her chihuahua said as the elevator doors parted.
“May we come in?” he asked.
“By all means Mr. Jenkins. And who is your little friend?"
Sicily smiled quite pleased. “I am Sicily ma’am. I live in 509.”
“Well Sicily, I am very happy to meet you.”
“What lovely manners she has,” she said to Mr. Jenkins. “You don’t often meet children with manners these days.”
“But ma’am, I am standing right here. You needn’t talk to Mr. Jenkins about me. Don’t you think I can hear you?”
“Don’t you think that’s rude? I’m not dead am I? I’m not invisible am I?”
“I believe this is your floor madam,” Mr. Jenkins said spreading his caped arm before her.
“So it is Mr. Jenkins,” she said, greatly relieved waddling through the parting elevator doors. The Chihuahua hoisted on her shoulder barked at Sicily.
“Did you see that Mr. Jenkins? The dog barked at me.”
“But of course. All living things will notice you because you deserve to be noticed.”
“Maybe,” Sicily said. “But they didn’t notice me before I met you.”
“Yes they did. You just didn’t see them notice you because you didn’t believe it was possible.”
“You are my fairy godfather and I am a mouse that you have turned into a princess so we can go to the ball.”
“No. You are Sleeping Beauty that I awakened with a kiss.”
“No. I am a frog that you kissed and turned into a girl.”
“No. I am a vampire that has sucked your blood so that I can be immortal.”
“Wait a minute. I thought that would make me immortal. It would just make you less hungry.”
“Clever girl. The problem is that I’m always hungry.” He smiled and winked at her.
Exiting the elevator and entering the lobby, Sicily and Mr. Jenkins passed the grand guilt framed, floor-to-ceiling mirror. In it she could see herself and Mr. Jenkins walking by.
“Vampires have no reflection,” she hissed at him.
“That’s a myth,” he replied cheerfully.
Mr. Jenkins had long thick silver white hair and black eyebrows, a gaunt, pointed face with two deep creases running the length of his cheeks. In the voluminous cape his painfully thin body was camouflaged and his 6'3" frame was transformed into something more youthful and substantial. At eighty Mr. Jenkins moved like a fifty-year old. She had often heard him say, “I will live to be two hundred. Why, I’m not even middle aged.” But when she begged to spend the night with him, he shooed her out the door. “Why not?” she asked, deeply disappointed. “Because,” he said, “I look like an old man when I’m asleep.”
At thirteen, Sicily was tall. At 5’8” she was almost as skinny and boney as Mr. Jenkins. Her skin was as white as his hair, with a sprinkling of freckles on her nose and arms. “Your hair is a red sea, that I part with my fingers,” Mr. Jenkins said when he held her on his lap, stroking her. But your mouth is like a little cloud,” he would say, gently kissing her lips.
Mr. Jenkins was an artist, a magician, a wise man and her lover. Mr. Jenkins rescued her from disappearing, from blowing out like a birthday candle. She had been living in the hotel for a month before she met Mr. Jenkins. Her mother was having yet another nervous breakdown and parked Sicily in a hotel suite while she got lost in the Bizzaro world of a nearby mental institution. Sicily hadn’t heard from her since. She supposed her mother’s latest boyfriend was taking care of the bills.
When she was hungry (which was almost never), she would go downstairs to the dining room and eat the smallest, blandest thing she could find on the menu.
“May I join you?” Mr. Jenkins asked that first time. She looked up and saw this very tall, very elegant white haired gentleman in a dark blue double-breasted suit. He bowed deeply when she looked at him.
“Enchanted,” she said, pretending to be her mother. “Please.” She motioned for him to sit.
“What is that you’re having?” he asked.
She looked at her plate. “La pomme de terre,” she replied.
“Lovely,” he said. “Waiter?” he snapped his fingers and the waiter returned to their table. “I’ll have the same,” he said. She gave him an approving look.
“Mr. Jenkins,” Sicily said, “take me out of the hotel, show me to the world. I want the world to see me.”
“But, my darling girl,” Mr. Jenkins said. “This is the world. There is never any need to go outside. Everything you could ever want is here. Food, maid service, hot water, fresh towels, a garden to stroll in for a bit of fresh air...”
“But what about the people Mr. Jenkins?”
“But the people are here, Sicily. The guests come from all over the world, from all walks of life. And they come and go just like people on the street, only this is better because here you can talk to them, make their acquaintance before they depart.”
Sicily frowned while considering this.
“And then there’s the staff. Shirley the waitress with her black hairnet too low on her forehead and her sturdy white stockinged legs like inverted milk bottles. She smells like melted butter. A perfect round pancake of a woman. Very efficient. Very friendly once you get to know her. Or Jesus the busboy. Very flirty, very quick to smile. A winsome youth. Ambitious, with a good attitude. The perfect immigrant. Watch him closely and you will see how over time he will fulfill the American dream. Even Mr. Greenley the Maitre de has his interesting points. You may think he is forbidding and cold, but no, I tell you I’ve seen him slip lollypops to children and he always pets the dogs that live here. And so many more. People, who, if they get to know you may love you. There’s daily opportunities to be visible, to become a part of people’s lives. But most of all,” he bent over to whisper in Sicily’s ear, “there’s me. There’s getting to know me, being seen by me, painted by me, loved by me. I will make you famous. The world will see your image and think, who is that beauty, that teenage Mona Lisa? Where does she live? Is she real? How can we find her? And then the world will come to you to seek you out and all you have to do is wait and stay right here, just where you are, in our hotel.”