Authors: Walter Dean Myers
Crystal continued looking out of the window, ignoring the man’s apology. A young girl—one hand gently rubbing her belly swollen from pregnancy, her large, dark eyes directed upward toward the overcast sky—sat on a graffiti-covered stoop. Two young men passed and one of them spoke to her. The girl turned away from them.
The bus driver told Crystal where to get off for the Bank Street address she had looked up in the telephone directory. It took another fifteen minutes of looking before Crystal found herself standing on a sagging porch next to an old refrigerator. It was yellow, and the bottom of the side that faced Crystal was badly rusted. A small child, his pants so low he had to keep pulling them up with one hand, played in the corner of the porch. He wore a dirty T-shirt that said
on the front and
on the back.
Crystal knocked on the frame of the open door. The paint on the frame itself was chipped and covered with soot. Crystal thought that she might have gotten the wrong address.
“I’m Mrs. DeLea.” The woman in the doorway was very fair, with dark slits for eyes. “You from St. Al’s? Father Murphy said he’d send somebody around to see me.”
“No, I’m a friend of Rosa, your daughter.”
“Oh.” The face softened. “She’s not here right now.”
“I know,” Crystal said. “She asked me to come here. She’s a little sick, and she asked me to let you know. She wants to know if she can…”
The words were coming slower and slower. The face of the woman in front of her was concerned, anxious. But the eyes—the eyes misted and looked away. Crystal didn’t want to say anything more to her, didn’t want to share this hurt with her.
“You can’t come in right now,” Mrs. DeLea said, softly. “My husband’s home and he doesn’t like visitors. He’s asleep, so we can talk for a while. Is she bad sick?”
“Kind of,” Crystal said.
The misting gave way to tears. Crystal could see the woman trying to pull herself together, trying to summon up strength. “I don’t have much money. I think I’ve got twenty dollars….”
“She doesn’t need any money,” Crystal said. “She’s got money.”
“She still doing the modeling?” Mrs. DeLea asked.
“Yes.” Crystal felt uncomfortable standing on the porch. The child came over to them and stood against Mrs. DeLea’s legs. “I think she’s going to be working again soon.”
“You tell her that I hope she’s okay,” Mrs. DeLea said. “I would come and see her, but I really can’t get away with the baby and all.”
“She wants to know if she can come home,” Crystal said.
Mrs. DeLea didn’t speak. She just shook her head “no” very quickly.
“I think she needs to,” Crystal said softly.
“My husband’s very sick,” Mrs. DeLea said, almost under
her breath. “He can’t stand nobody around him that don’t listen, and Rosa, she just won’t listen to him. I don’t want him to hurt her or nothing. Before, he hurt her pretty bad.”
“I’ll tell her maybe she can come home later?” Crystal said. “Okay?”
“When she left, I was so scared for her.” She moved her hand to her face as she spoke. She looked tired, as if perhaps she had always been tired. “I didn’t take no money from her or nothing. She offered, because that’s the kind of girl she is. That’s the kind of person, you know what I mean?”
“I just told her to do for herself. She’s young.”
“You a friend of hers?”
“Yes, we work together, too.” Crystal found herself speaking low.
“You tell her she’s on my mind night and day,” Mrs. DeLea said. “You tell her she’s on my mind just night and day.”
“I’ll tell her that,” Crystal said. “You want me to tell her you’ll come to see her when you can?”
“Yeah, tell her that, too.” Mrs. DeLea nodded. “I can see you’re real sweet. You know what to say.”
The baby scooted into the house between her legs. When the door was closed Mrs. DeLea’s face through the screen looked like the faces of women Crystal had seen in old tapestries at the museum.
The next day, Loretta called early and said she had set up a meeting with Joe Sidney and his publicity director.
“They want your mother to come along, too,” Loretta said. “I think that’s good, don’t you?”
Crystal said that it probably was.
The meeting was at L’Auberge d’Hiver restaurant. Loretta wore a simple Calvin Klein dress but with outrageous earrings. Carol Brown wore a dress she had bought just that morning at Bloomingdale’s. Loretta insisted that Crystal try the gazpacho with chilies and shrimp. The waiter suggested that they share an
Sidney, once their luncheon had been completed, said that he thought they might shoot the entire movie in Italy or Greece.
“Perhaps in a small village near Piraeus,” he said.
Across from them, two very loud people sat discussing how much money they had made that day.
Nobody mentioned Rowena.
When she got home, Crystal called the hospital, and they said that there was no change in Rowena’s condition. Loretta had said that she had cosmetics sent over to Rowena but didn’t see how she was going to be strong enough even to make herself up.
Crystal wanted to visit her that evening but couldn’t. She didn’t know what to say to Rowena about her mother. She called Jerry and told him. Jerry said that Rowena came from a rough background.
“I know,” Crystal said into the phone. “But I wondered if there was anything we could do for her now.”
“There probably is,” Jerry said. “But I don’t think we should try to figure it out. I’m paying for Dr. Barber. He’s going to make an evaluation of her.”
“Then we’ll talk to her and see what goes from there.”
“What do you think’ll happen?”
“Crystal, I don’t think it’s fair of us to put ourselves in that position,” Jerry said.
“By the way,” she said, “what pictures did you send to Sidney?”
“The same package that Everby got,” Jerry said.
“Alyce showed me some in the studio…”
“She showed you the bad shots,” Jerry said quickly. “When I get a chance, I’ll take a look at them. Look, Crystal, pictures are pictures, they don’t mean anything. You’re still a good girl.”
“I think so,” Crystal said.
“Look, I have to get into the darkroom,” Jerry said. A moment later, he was saying good-bye, and the phone clicked off.
Crystal wondered what kind of boyfriend Jerry was. She had never had a steady boyfriend or even anyone she had liked enough to call her boyfriend. She thought of Charlie. He was tall, awkward, so far away from the rest of her life. What would he do in Greece? What would Sidney think of him?
She decided that she would go to see Rowena the next day. She would tell her what her mother had said. No, she would tell her that her mother had said she could come home later.
There was an excitement to picking up the script. Crystal had become a model accidentally and was still too new to the business to even decide if she really liked it or not. It was nice having people she had known all of her life suddenly begin to pay attention to her. It was as if she were a new person, someone they hadn’t seen before. And as often as she told herself that being beautiful wasn’t that important, it did make her feel good for people to say that about her.
But being in a movie was something else again. It was like being in a lovely dream in the middle of the day with the sun shining and bands playing around her. She didn’t like Sidney, but it didn’t matter that much. She remembered reading an interview in which an actress was telling the reporter how difficult Spike Lee had been.
“He’s a grumpy bear of a man,” the actress had said. “His only grace being his genius.”
The offices of CPM Productions were on Lexington Avenue and Sixtieth Street. Crystal got there at five minutes to eleven. She had to sign in with the Hispanic doorman in
the lobby who phoned Joe Sidney’s office on the ninth floor. She had to wait nearly ten minutes before the doorman let her up.
A young man doing his nails was seated behind the desk in the outer office.
“You’re Crystal Brown?” he asked. He had a strong, masculine voice, but he was wearing eyeliner.
“Yes,” she answered. “I’m supposed to pick up a script.”
“You’re very lovely,” he said, making it sound like something other than a compliment. “I’m Tom.”
Crystal responded with a nod as Tom pushed a button on the telephone set before him.
“Crystal Brown is here to see you about a script,” he said into the receiver. Then he told her to go in, indicating a different office from the one she, Loretta, and her mother had been in before. There was a brass plaque on the side of the door that read
. She tried the door; it was locked. She turned back to Tom, who flashed a saccharin grin and buzzed her through.
It looked more like a living room than an office. The entire room was done in oranges and yellows. There was a conversation pit against one wall in which two enormous couches, separated by a hideous orange rug, faced each other. The bookshelves along the walls were filled completely with orange and yellow bound books. In the middle of the room, on a platform, was what looked like a small indoor pool. To the left of the pool, seated behind a solid mahogany desk, was Joe Sidney.
“I got stock in Villeroy & Boch,” Sidney said. “I had them build this little number for me.”
“What is it?” Crystal asked.
“It’s the biggest bathtub on the East Coast,” Sidney said. “Go on up and take a look. It’s got steps on the other side.”
Crystal took a deep breath and walked around the tub. She stepped up on the first stair and looked in.
“It’s different,” Crystal said, stepping quickly down again.
“If you can’t be different,” Sidney said, “you’re not going to make it in this world. The script is on the bookcase over there, near the lamps. One’s got your name on it. Your part’s highlighted in yellow. Go get it and let me hear you read.”
Crystal felt herself tense. She hadn’t thought about reading for the part. She went to where Sidney had indicated and saw a pile of scripts. She thumbed through each one until she found the one with
printed on it. She wondered if Tom had done that.
She went over to the couch and opened the script to the first page that had dialogue for her. She began to read aloud.
“‘This might be the worst vacation I’ve ever had.’”
“You’re supposed to be from Spain, but I think we’re going to make that Marrakesh,” Sidney said. “I know we’re going to change your name. Something with an ‘e’ sound on the end. That sounds more exotic. You want to try the hot tub? Some people find it very relaxing.”
“No, thank you.” Crystal smiled. She thought of what Loretta had said, about smiling when she didn’t feel like it.
“Keep reading.” Sidney was stuffing papers into a dark leather briefcase.
“‘Oh, Eduardo, you’re so silly. Why shouldn’t you love me? What are human beings made for, if not to love each other?’”
Crystal read the part slowly.
“‘It’s not the idea of loving you. It’s why should you love me. After all, I’m nothing but a dishwasher in this hotel.’” Sidney had the part memorized.
“Are you going to play that role?” Crystal asked.
“No, but I know all the parts,” Sidney said. “I could recite yours if I wanted to. Look, are you comfortable standing over there?”
“Not really,” Crystal said.
“Why don’t you take your clothes off and get into the tub?” Sidney said.
“No, thank you,” Crystal said, hoping that he had noticed the edge in her voice.
“Keep reading.” Sidney’s voice changed noticeably. Crystal looked for where she had stopped reading.
“‘You mean that somebody would find out about us?’” Crystal read.
“‘Heavens no,’” Sidney droned on. “‘The pain of losing you. And I know that eventually I must. As soon as I become, you know, serious.’”
“‘Don’t be silly! I want you to be serious, Eduardo.’”
“You know what business this is, Crystal?” Sidney stood and walked around the desk. “This ain’t the beauty business, it’s the being young business.”
“‘I don’t think I could ever live without you.’” Crystal continued reading her part.
“You’re hot stuff because you’re young stuff,” Sidney said. “Don’t forget that. Young flesh is always exciting, and the world is full of young flesh.”
“‘My only problem, Eduardo, is that I want to get married.’”
“Okay, okay. Look, I’m headed downtown,” Sidney said. “Bring the script and I’ll drop you off. Keep reading.”
“Am I reading the part all right?” Crystal asked.
“Yeah, I can understand the words,” Sidney said. He started out the door and Crystal followed, reading as she went. Sidney told Tom to call for his car. Crystal read the part that he had interrupted.
“How come you read that part twice?” Sidney asked.
“I thought you didn’t hear me,” Crystal replied.
“Go on, go on.” He nodded at her. Then, even before she started, he called to Tom not to take any calls from somebody named Lucy Libreman. “She’s a mystery writer. I borrowed a few ideas from her and now she wants to sue me.”
“‘Of course, it doesn’t make any difference that you’re just a dishwasher. I love you for your personality, not your job.’”
Crystal nodded toward two young girls in the elevator. She held up the script so that they could see it.
By the time they reached the sidewalk, the car was in front. The doorman opened the door and Sidney got in. He motioned to Crystal to get in, and she went around the front of the car, barely being missed by a delivery boy on a three-wheeled contraption.
“Where are we going?” Crystal asked.
“I’m headed toward my place,” Sidney said. “I’ll give you cab money to get to…where are you from, Brooklyn?”
“Brooklyn,” Crystal said.
She continued reading. Sidney drove fast and expertly. Now and again he corrected her reading of the script. On Tenth Street and Fifth Avenue, at a stoplight, he told her to
reach into the glove compartment and take out a card.
Crystal looked at the card. It had Joe Sidney’s name and address on it. She was looking at it when he put his hand on her leg.
“Don’t!” she said.
“What do you mean,
?” Sidney asked. “You see me and you see you, right?”
“I just don’t want your hands on me,” Crystal said. The light changed and the car started moving forward.
“Don’t give me that crap,” Sidney said. “You just tell me one thing. Do you see me and do you see you?”
“Yes, of course I do.”
“And what you should see when you see me is a guy who can make you a friggin’ movie star. And what you should see when you see you is just another pretty face that can’t make nothing without me turning you on to the movies. Why you think Loretta’s pushing so hard for this? Huh? She’s pushing hard because she don’t think you’re gonna make her any money without a movie. She didn’t tell you that?”
“She said something like that,” Crystal said.
“Damn straight!” Joe Sidney put his hand on Crystal’s leg. “We’re going to my place.”
They drove on toward Bedford Street. Crystal didn’t move. Joe Sidney’s hand on her leg was the heaviest thing she had ever felt. She started to pretend that it wasn’t her in the car. It wasn’t her, just someone, a girl, riding in a car. A girl she hardly knew.
“So what do you think?” Joe Sidney smiled and chewed on the unlit cigar in his mouth. “I’m not such a bad guy after all, eh?”
The car was stopped. Crystal looked up. She pushed
Sidney’s hand away as hard as she could and opened the door just as he started the car up. He slammed on the brake, sending her arm into the dashboard.
“What the hell’s wrong with you?” he shouted at her. “You high or something?”
An old lady walking a Pekingese watched as Crystal half jumped, half stumbled out of Sidney’s car. The woman pulled the dog’s leash toward her and lifted him into her arms as Sidney reached over and slammed the door shut. He started up again, brought the car to a squealing halt, and backed up to where Crystal still stood at the curb. He threw something from the car that landed near her feet.
“Pick it up!” he shouted, angrily.
Crystal picked up the script and clutched it in her hands as Sidney’s car lurched forward and down the busy street.
“Young lady, I don’t know where you live,” the old woman said haughtily. “But we don’t allow that sort of thing in this neighborhood!”