Falling in love with a cabaret singer isn’t for the faint of heart. At points in my love journey, I closed my eyes and focused on an image of the man on a dark stage, dancing in a circle of light, his face a mask of black and white. But, in reality, he didn’t do much dancing. Rather, he sat at his black baby grand and played for hours with his eyes closed to me.
It hurt. True, he had more important songs to bring to light and air than the ones involving me — that I had written for him, of course. Somehow, even as a nobody, a woman second-class, I knew we had more than just a simple connection. And so I waited at the edge of the shiny wooden dance floor, which was always devoid of couples. As far as I could tell, although my cabaret singer was both talented and sought-after, he played for nobody on a nightly basis.
Rumor had it he was searching for a woman, or that his entourage did the searching, framing photos of eligible bachelorettes and sliding them to him while he sat at his instrument. He shooed them away, again and again. In my imagination, he didn’t prefer to have framed images of women dotting the landscape of his piano; he wished he could rattle them off. I detected a dismissive look in his eyes, and that wasn’t imagination. And, oh, were his eyes ever dismissive! They flitted past me, as well as the rest of the late-night stragglers at the dance hall. Making music — that was his primary job in this world, and who could convince him of anything else?
One night, I entered the hall to find my cabaret singer utterly changed. In addition to his usual tuxedo with the tie undone, he’d added a white pancake make-up to his face, red to his lips, and a set of disgustingly thick and black false eyelashes to his eyes. He was beautiful with that look — I couldn’t put my finger on why it suited him so well, as though a charmed blending had occurred. Overnight, he’d become the musical Emcee from Cabaret, and I half expected him to sing, “Beedle dee, dee dee dee, two ladies! And I’m the only man, ja!”
When I took up my usual corner vigil with my roommate — I always slouched my shoulders in the corner opposite his — he stopped playing to give the photograph parade a serious perusal. My heart jittered with nerves, and I pressed my hand to my chest and wondered if the three shots of Jack had depleted my potassium. I turned to the side and glanced his way out of the corners of my eyes, and then, when he spotted my obvious attempt to appear as though I didn’t care, I searched the glare of the waxed-over-scuff flooring. My roommate, whom I’d dragged with me, chucked a finger under my chin.
“You’ll survive,” she said. “I’m sure he’s not interested in any of those women. It’s hard to fall in love with a photograph.”
I might have believed her, but the man’s womanly face suddenly crumpled into a sad state, his full red lips pursed. He batted his eyelashes and couldn’t blink away the few stray tears that coursed black rivulets down his white cheeks.
“He’s fallen in love,” I said. “And not with me. I’ll be forever separated.”
My roommate seemed annoyed. She was one those invisible girls, far more invisible than I was — and I was nearly a ghost — and, hence, I tended to use her as my emissary. She did it without my asking. “Do you want me to go look at the photo for you, see what she looks like?”
“Please,” I said.
She slid across the floor, and I watched as she turned her frail blonde, invisible angel head to the framed image in my cabaret singer’s hand. While sliding back, she smiled in her sly way.
“It’s a picture of his mother,” she told me.
“How do you know?”
“Because of the resemblance. It’s obvious.”
I raised my eyes to the piano, and I saw he’d brushed all the photos aside, and his entourage was packing them away, but he hadn’t yet begun to focus on his sheet music. Instead, he stared across the dance hall at me and my roommate. His shoulders were about as hunched as mine were. For five long minutes, he sat in silence and didn’t move, and he stared at us, the invisible females, as though he’d spotted two ghosts and didn’t know what to do with the vision.
Finally, he rose, gestured for another man to take his place on the piano bench, and crossed the room.
“Dance?” he said, holding out his hand to me. He sighed. “It’s about time, anyway.”
The new singer-player dashed out a folk waltz. I took my singer’s hand, and he pulled me into a swinging one-two-three.
“Beedle dee, dee dee dee, two ladies! I’m part of you, and you are two,” he sang so that only my ear could hear him.
You are two. I never saw him after that night because he disappeared at the end of our dance. For some reason, I no longer needed to see the man whose songs I wrote in secret. I never returned to the dance hall, and neither did he. Rumor had it, he’d found a better-paying gig. I heard his voice, though, especially in my dreams: I’m part of you, and you are two. I framed the song in my mind and kept it.