She had her morning coffee on her balcony, and I walked underneath on my way to school. She had unnaturally black hair, or maybe it was just her pale face. I tried to walk without moving up and down, conscious that the wind was moving my hair over my face.

She was going to work in a few minutes, but took the time to come out on her second floor balcony, to watch the world go by. I had a thirty minute walk to my senior year in high school, so I was like clockwork.

After a month, I noticed that she watched me, not noticed me, she watched me pass. I started to watch back. She had probably just graduated, got her first apartment, her first real job, and she was not used to being alone.

After two months she said “Hello!”. I was stunned, but managed a smooth reply, “Hello!” After that we just nodded knowingly.

Three months, she asked if I liked music, I nodded. She suggested that I stop by sometime to listen. I hadn’t stopped walking so I turned my head backwards and nodded.

A few days later she said that she would be home in the afternoon, if I want to stop by. It was less awkward that she didn’t say, “stop by after school.” At this point I had only vocalized one “Hello!”, and dozens of knowing nods. I wondered what a conversation would be like with a woman, alone, in her own apartment. So I replied, “I’ll see you then.”

Later that day, after finding my way to her front door (a guess), I knocked, instead of ringing the bell. It seemed more manly, but I intentionally didn’t apply any rhythm.

She answered the door, dressed in black, holding a wine glass, wine matching the red of her lipstick. The impact of her blue eyes, dark eye-shadow, black pageboy hair, black blouse, and turquoise stone necklace was startling. I was way out of my comfort zone, with my Madras shirt, brown baggy cords, and Thom McCann sandals. She said come in.

It was a one bedroom apartment, with the bedroom hidden somewhere, but I saw the bathroom, kitchen, living room, and the door to the balcony. There was a small sofa with pillows, and a plush chair. She said have a seat. With my brain working fast enough to create some beads of sweat, I chose the plush chair. Best not to assume anything.

She had a record player on a small table. It wasn’t part of a stereo system, it wasn’t even a stereo. I had one like it for about four years. I got a subscription from Columbia records, and my mother bought me a “Hifi”, short for “high fidelity”. Apparently her salary didn’t allow her to purchase the newly available stereos.

I looked at the small stack of albums, I didn’t see any 45s. We called the albums LPs because they were “long playing”. The one on top looked like it was used a lot. It was Sam the Sham. and the Pharaohs. All of the albums were by Sam the Sham, and the Pharraohs. I wasn’t aware that they had that many albums.

“Do you like Sam the Sham? I really love them!” And the first record went on the record player. “Would you like a glass of wine?” “Ahm, sure!” Man, woman, music and wine. It was almost a script to a movie, except I missed rehearsals, and didn’t know what to say. I did bring my notebooks, with my rants, scribbles, and bad haikus. I was terrified that I would have to share them, considering that I was mostly mute.

The first song was finished, we had said nothing beyond the greeting at the door. So I told her my name, she smiled, and replied with her name. And the second song finished.

I figured a natural break would come when the sixth song was done, and the record was turned over to play the B-side. Then another break would occur when the album was changed. I did the math, it looks like we have about three hours of listening, and about 12 breaks. I could be home by dinner.

Unfortunately she was very practiced with the album flip to the backside. Not enough time to ask a question, or to make a statement. She did ask if it was loud enough, and I nodded.

Someone was in charge of what was happening, and it wasn’t me. My wine was untouched, and hers was half done. I studied the room, and when she was intent on the music, her eyes shut, and I studied her. She had clear skin, with fine lines around her eyes, she didn’t blend the makeup onto her throat, so her face was several shades lighter than her neck. Her lipstick was left on the wineglass, and slightly removed from her upper and lower lips, making it almost two-toned.

There was a brass camel on her bookshelf. The books were few, and looked to be from the Reader’s Digest collection. Kitchen counters clean, and stark. Everything in their space, and hidden behind doors, and in drawers. A small B&W TV with rabbit ears next to a rack of TV trays. It could have been my mother’s house.

Then things got ugly. If her flipping the album was fast, the changing of albums was just slightly slower. The new album was pulled from the cover, the old album was popped off, and for a moment there were two disks being juggled (only touching the labels of each record. The new album was on, with the record arm placed on the first song. Then old album was momentarily placed in the wrong cover.

Frustrated, she shook the record out, and it took flight directly at my wine glass. The glass tipped over on the table, splashing my cords, her couch, and the rug below. Oh yeah, the red lake on the table also soaked my notebooks.

It took less than 15 seconds, but we stared without saying anything for at least 30 more seconds. She took several hops to get paper towels, and a wet dishrag. All the while, she was muttering something. I could only hear part, “at least he could have drunk some of it.”

She blotted and wiped everything, but my cords and my notebooks. I wrapped the notebooks in paper towels, but decided not to blot my pants. I left her standing there with red stained hands, saying that I had better get home to change clothes.

When I got home I opened my notebooks, there were places where the ink ran, and wine left blots, like psychology tests. All in all, the notebooks had more physical character than content character.

The next morning, she was not on her balcony. I never saw her again. For some reason, I remembered 56 years ago, and wrote the following

I once knew the killer of poems,

She lay on pillows of satin red,

Because they didn’t show the stains of words.

I was young and foolish,

I thought that smoke didn’t mean fire,

I thought whispers made mysteries.

I was lost in a desert of comfort,

The ghost that was me, pale and silent,

Looking at notebooks soaked in wine,

Ink swirling in burgundy.


I dunno, a little wine could improve it.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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3 Responses to Once

  1. Anonymous says:

    I enjoyed that. A snippet of growing up. Leaves an impression…

  2. rangerdon – Teacher, photographer, Ranger, writer. Author, THE LIFE AND TRUTH OF GEORGE R. STEWART. Father, grandfather. Wanderer
    rangerdon says:

  3. Jenna says:

    Norwegian Wood vibes 😊

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