He didn’t have the gift of words but he could compose music and sing. Someone, he really couldn’t remember where in his drunken drug haze, told him to talk to Hastings.
“You simply must pair up with him, darling.” The woman, half-Asian and French with a dark smell surrounding her like a poison midnight flower, puffed on her Dunhill and then waved her hands. “Hastings is a literary critic. Very well connected.
“What does that have to do with music and singing?” He grabbed the bar rail. The whiskeys had disabled his balancing skill.
“Darling…” she said it like she was talking to a child. “All creativity blends.”
The woman wrote Hastings number on a matchbook. “You simply must,” she said sticking it his shirt pocket.
A few days later when he was piling clothes for the dry cleaners he found the matchbook – MAGNOLIA NIGHTS. Hastings. And then a number.
Colin sat down on the bed and dialed. Hastings picked up in two rings.
“Sorry, some woman told me to call you. I can’t remember her name. I’m a musician. You’re a literary critic. I can’t imagine our connection.”
Hastings was quiet. “I have parties,” he said.
“Her name is ZiZi. Lovely woman. Remarkable cheekbones. She’s always finding men for me.”
“Men for what?”
“Come to tea today. At my home.”
He wrote down the address and went back to sleep. Around three he boarded the subway for Soho. Hastings lived in an aging three-floor walk up replete with rippled wallpaper, the smell of dumplings, and two black men who nodded at him and kept vaping.
Hastings opened the door before he knocked. The apartment was a festoon of colors, a pinata of fun, piled books, ornate furniture, strange decor including old bones and a skull, and a blind bunny that ran into him twice.
“Poor dear,” said Hastings. “She does so love company.”
They drank tea riddled with schnapps and small cookies from some French bakery. Hastings prattled on about books.
“The state of literature is simply abysmal.”
Hastings swallowed some tea. He had a vaguely English accent, which Colin assumed he acquired during his long stays in Europe.
“So,” said Hastings. “Shall we get on with it?”
Colin set his French ceramic cup down. “Get on with what?”
He lost his breath. “I’m not gay.”
“Your kind always says that. Deep down you’re as queer as me.”
“I came here to learn about writing.” Hastings seemed very prissy. “I think.”
“I will teach you about writing. Let’s roll in the bed first. I got new sheets from Paris. Marvelous thread count.”
His tongue felt numb. Was he gay? Had ZiZi seen something in him? He came to New York City two years ago to make a success at music and learn about himself. He now had a crazy opportunity. The blind rabbit ran into his shoe again.
“Let’s discover,” Colin said. With two words he became a different sort of man. He became a different sort of person. He felt freed from the prison of Naples, Indiana.
Colin left Hastings sprawled on the bed. He knew he wouldn’t see him again.
“The heart,” he said. “That’s the key to writing. Don’t forget your heart. Or to impress. Do try to impress. Always improve on what came before.”
Colin nodded. His heart felt empty and too sullied to impress. He remembered what Lincoln once said. THIS TOO SHALL PASS.