Maria decided to go out the next night. Billie Holiday was playing at the Three Deuces. If she didn’t go now, she knew she never would.
She turned on the shower. For once, the water was hot, and that felt like a sign. She put a record on in the other room and left the door open so she could listen to it while the room steamed up. She put on makeup. It must have been the third time she’d done so since moving to New York.
She took the subway to 52nd Street and walked to the club. All the noises of the city seemed to make a song of which she was part. She felt herself as temporary but permanent, as if this moment, this New York City evening, would last forever, as if she’d been forgiven for everything she’d done wrong. It was only a moment, but it was enough.
Billie was singing “Solitude” when Maria went in. The club was small and the décor was unimpressive, but Maria hardly noticed, so magnetic was Billie Holiday’s presence.
She found a table, sat down, and let the music sink into her. Suddenly, she understood. The pain on Billie’s face was so deep. She was so lonesome. But the music she was singing was so elegant; so full of unexpected and wonderful turns. Willing to drag meaning, to drag beauty out of the dark. To get it by any means necessary. To find it late at night when all the cigarettes were gone and the voices were husky and all the wrinkles and crevices stood out on the faces. When hope had already been renounced; when it had gone away; her voice called it back.
Phil Ocks walked into the club, bearing his camera. He watched Maria’s face closely. It was like she was having a revelation, a religious experience.
They slept together again. Afterwards, Phil watched her through the lens of his camera.
“You’re beautiful,” he told her.
“What is the distinction?”
“…Do you know where the word ‘aesthetics’ comes from?”
“I think so.”
“It was this Greek word, aistheta. It means ‘perception.’”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely.” Those black-coffee eyes in hers.
“It had nothing to do with beauty until the seventeenth century,” he said. “A philosopher took it to use in his treatise about beauty. He wanted to describe a kind of beauty that came purely from the senses, not from the intellect.” His eyes still trained on her, he ran his hand up her thigh.
He trained the camera on her. Click.
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