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The Devil and mabel winters

I look at you, and my eyes must admire
All that you are, that you show of desire.
Soon I'm aglow, and the flame's mounting higher,
Fed by your touch, by my lips on your lovely face.

I hold you close, and my heart's like an ocean
Filled with the waves and the storms of emotion.
Borne in the bourn of your arms there's devotion.
I come to shore, come to rest, in your warm embrace.
 I look at you, and your eyes shine with wonder,
For I am free of the storm and the thunder,
And it's the spell of your touch that I'm under.
So hold me tight---very tight---when I look at you.

     "I Look at You," sung by the Bon-Bons on London records.


     "My God, if I can't do any better than this, I might as well quit." Mabel Winters scratched her greasy, bleached hair. Lowering her hand to eye-level, she frowned at the flecks of dandruff under her fingernails. "Just think, a couple of years ago they were standing in line to see me at the Copa. Those were the days." She slumped back against an iron ladder which was bolted to the backstage wall.
     "Now it's Grand Rapids and the Palace; God, what a palace. No hot water to wash in, dust an inch thick everywhere, and that set---Jesus Christ."
     She shifted her 150 pounds from one foot to another and rubbed her nose with the back of her wrist. The stage was so small that the emcee, who was telling a traveling salesman joke, cast a shadow right in the middle of the painted backdrop. "Lord, just look at that scenery: a chintzy southern mansion, phony cardboard willow trees---that crazy little iron bench there would probably collapse if I sat on it. Probably has---God damn!" She quickly brushed away a rain of dust which fell on her shoulders from above. Looking up, she saw a Negro clumping down the ladder she had been leaning against.
     "Wait a second, Buster," she grabbed his arm. "Did you fix those lights like I told you to?
     "I'm sorry, ma'am, I---"
     "I don't want any excuses; did you fix them?" The emcee paused in the middle of his joke and hurled a dirty look in the direction of the loud voice. She saw his move out of the corner of her eye. Leaning toward the very edge of the curtain---careful that the audience wouldn't hear---she whispered three little words: "Go to hell."
     Not waiting to see the emcee's reaction, she turned back to the Negro. She was satisfied with the way he shrank back under her glare, the way his voice quavered.
     "I got the pink lights like you wanted, ma'am, but---"
     "That's all I wanted to know." She slapped him hard on the back. "Now beat it, nigger, before I push your teeth down your black gullet." She laughed at his rapidly disappearing back.
     "He runs just like Harry," she thought. "Harry wanted to be boss-man when he married me; well, I showed him, but good. Now, Fred was a helluva lot quieter, but why did he have to drink so much?" She shook her head. "Never forget his funeral. The way his sister carried on and told me I drove him to the grave. God, was she a bitch. Then there was Arnie. He worked much better than a heating pad on a cold night. I wonder what happened to him." She shrugged her shoulders and smoothed her dress down over her voluptuous hips."You're still in pretty good shape, Mabel, old gal. If the singing business gets rough, you can always go back to the 'bump-and-grind' work. Don't make as much money, but it's good for a laugh. And think of the interesting men you meet that way."
     She waggled her torso from side to side and frowned at her neckline. "Dolls back in Civil War days didn't have a sense of showmanship; this neckline would look better if I took a pair of scissors to it. Oh, oh, too late now; the emcee's introducing me." Peering out from the wings to hear her introduction, she caught a disheartening view of the side aisle, completely empty but for torn popcorn bags. Squeezing a pimple above her right breast, she caught the last words of the emcee's speech.
     "---a fine singer, even if she is pushing fifty." She gritted her teeth and hissed: "Son of a bitch, son of a BITCH."
     "Here she is, Maybelle Winters."
     Snorting at the way he said her name, Mabel threw caution to the wind, plastered a smile on her face, and stomped up to him in the center of the stage. She muttered two words that made even him blush slightly. Regaining his composure, he said, "Folks, Mayebellie just told me the cutest thing. I won't repeat it, but I'll just say: 'The same goes double for you, you darling.'"
     He pinched her cheek hard, and sailed past her in a cloud of onion-smell and perspiration. She slapped his face and resisted a powerful impulse to kick him in the ass.
     Turning to the audience, she brushed her hair back off her shoulders and laughed lightly. "I'm so happy to be here tonight. Grand Rapids is such a lovely place." She laughed again. "I'm going to just love to sing for you," she said, and added to herself, "Like hell." She nodded to the fat man standing in the pit, who then waved his broken baton at the five musicians sitting before him. "Oh, for God's sake, tune those violins up sometime, will you?"
     "I LOOK AT YOU, AND MY EYES MUST ADMIRE ALL THAT YOU ARE, THAT YOU SHOW OF DESIRE." When she started singing, the lights began to lower. Soon she stood in the middle of a pink haze that was so dim that it looked almost brown. "Where did that bastard PUT those damned pink lights?" She twisted around as unobtrusively as she could, and saw that the lights were directly above her. "Dammit, dammit, dammit," she cursed silently. "I can't stand shadows; they make me look like a witch---straight above me. Oh, dammit. How can I get out of this? I can see myself now: hollows where my eyes are, my throat all hidden, my mouth probably looks like a stinking hole. Dammit." She almost spoke aloud between the lines.
     "What can I---" She stopped, aware of a slight movement in the shadows to one side of the stage. "What the---" A figure of a man detached itself from the shadows and came toward her. "What the hell is this? By God, if that's some crazy stagehand, I'll wring his neck." He moved closer, looming larger and larger in the darkness of the stage. In a second he stood beside her in the dim light. Mingled thoughts raced through her brain: "I'll kill him if he wrecks this number. What is this; what does he want; he doesn't belong here." Looking down at his clothing, she suddenly saw that he DID belong: he was wearing a uniform of the Confederate Army. "For God's sake, couldn't they tell me about this guy; after all, I'm only the star of this crummy show." She studied what she could see of his face in the haze. Deep shadows alternated with highlights on his forehead and cheeks; his eyes were hidden in gloom. He tilted his head upward slightly, and his eyes---dark, shining, magnetic eyes---hypnotized her with their gaze.
     "SOON I'M AGLOW, AND THE FLAME'S MOUNTING HIGHER." A flood of emotion overwhelmed her even before she knew what the emotion was. She felt swept up in an intense attraction for his compelling eyes. She wanted to possess him entirely, to have him possess her completely. She loved him, she felt, beyond life itself.
     In the background of her passion there was an obscure, lurking fear connected with him. The tiniest impulse to run as far and as fast as she could came to her. This strange mingling of sensations---a strong attraction, coupled with a vague fear---had occurred once before, years ago.
     She had been drinking, and a martini had been set before her; she had picked it up. The glass had been the only cold object in a room filled with heat and sweat, and she had rubbed it along her shoulders while delicious chills ran through her. She had never been drunk before, but she had known that this one drink would cause her first venture into the unknown world of alcohol.
     Now she felt that same desire for a thing that offered a kind of ecstasy, yet, at the same time, promised a semi-death. Thoughts---beautiful, yet somehow horrible---raced through her brain. She envisioned herself standing on a precipice overlooking a seething ocean; she was tempted to pitch herself forward. The temptation offered a climax, a tremendous finale; however, it was also the entrance to something new, unexplained, mysterious, but very attractive. The vision fled.
     Because of the thousands of times she had sung the same song, she continued to sing: "FED BY YOUR TOUCH, BY MY LIPS ON YOUR LOVELY FACE." He bent his head very close to hers, so close that his lips must be touching her, yet she felt nothing substantial, only a tingling sensation of heat on her cheek. There was an intensification of feeling within her, yet the very abundance of passion in her blood was cloying. "There can be no more---" she hesitated to say the word---"LOVE in me, or I'll explode."
     "I HOLD YOU CLOSE, AND MY HEART'S LIKE AN OCEAN FILLED WITH THE WAVES AND THE STORMS OF EMOTION." She had taken him completely in her arms, and in a moment of rational thought she saw that he was between her and the audience. At any other time in her life she would have lashed out at him in anger: screamed at him to get out of the way.
     "Not here. Not now. I could stand here with my head on his shoulder, perfectly quiet, for all eternity. Quiet? How can that be? I'm singing---I hear the words being sung---but it's my voice. Then it MUST be me, yet I'm here, detached, soundless."
     "BORNE IN THE BOURN OF YOUR ARMS THERE'S DEVOTION." With a slight laugh she put the idea from her head, just as she had obliterated the thought that he was blocking the audience's view of her. "It doesn't matter; nothing matters but that he's holding me---holding me---" Suddenly a series of impressions flashed in her mind, and the tiny spark of fear which she had felt at first grew larger.
     "This isn't the embrace of a lover; it's the hold of a captor, an enemy." She turned her head slightly and whispered. "Let me go, darling." He didn't move. "Let me go." He didn't seem to be breathing. Though he held her very closely, she could feel no heartbeat, no pulsation of living blood. "Let me go," she said in a low voice, fearful the audience would hear her.
     "The audience isn't even looking at me; it's staring at a spot beside me. But there's nothing there." Bewildered, she looked to the side, and her heart stopped. The figure of Mabel Winters stood, alone, only a few feet away from her. Her brain spun with the impossibility of the situation. "It can't be."
     "Let me go," she screamed. She put her hands into his shiny hair and pulled away from him. His expressionless face slid in front of her, blocking out everything else. His unblinking eyes stared into her; then they shifted away, as if they were looking at something behind her.
     She turned with no effort whatsoever---it was as if she had no flesh and bone to weigh her down---then gasped as she saw that she was suspended in space above the audience, above the singing figure on the stage. Directly in front of her, she saw the row of pink lights which illuminated the scene below. She started forward as the lights sagged downward. There was a rush of falling metal, and she felt herself somehow a part of the lamp-bank, plummeting toward Mabel Winters on the stage.
     "Look out, LOOK OUT," she shrieked. Mabel Winters jerked her head upward, and her eyes widened in sudden fright. There was a crash and confusion, a chaos of whirling pink lights, and again she felt lifted to a position above the stage, utterly detached from the figure of Mabel Winters, which was crushed under the fallen lights.
     "She's dead. Oh, God, she's dead." Her thoughts echoed and re-echoed in an infinite silence.
     She felt him clasp her from behind.