Midnight Lunch

Edla Frankau Cusick

 

[ALINE, a New-York-born set designer, has brought TOM, a young writer who is new in town, to a derelict loft in Greenwich Village to cajole him into sharing the place as a workspace. They have only recently met, on an ocean crossing.]

ALINE
So we're on, then? Not that I'm asking. I'm not asking. It's a done deal. Even if you felt as if you wouldn't be able to work here, in close quarters like this, if you felt constrained, I mean creatively, by me, by us, even if you did—it's a perfect studio for me alone. So you don't need to agree to anything. You mustn't feel any pressure. None. Absolutely zero pressure. ...Oh, but listen, it's going to be fantastic!

TOM
If you say so. Still looks pretty crummy to me. Not up to your standards, surely. A seat on the New York Stock Exchange gets a man's wife classier surroundings than this.

ALINE
Me? I'm adaptable. Don't worry about me. I know crummy. Crummy doesn't scare me.

Anyway, this is a far cry from crummy. Just shut your eyes and try to picture how it'll look. No, no, never mind. I'll do it for both of us. After all, that's what I do. I make a place. Or I make people believe in a place.

For this job you need vision, you need imagination.

TOM
You need someone to clean those windows. And someone to put glass in this one.

ALINE
We'll get all that done. We'll put a nice color on these walls. Well, first we'll patch them, but it's nothing, the work of one afternoon. Maybe that beautiful yellow from the dining room at Mount Vernon. You never saw such a color. Ever so slightly greenish. A cool relaxing yellow, not some hot taxi-cab yellow, no one could think around that kind of yellow. You'll see. We'll get you a big fat chair for your reading. With a nice footstool. So you can really think.

TOM
Me, I think on my feet. Like, right now I'm thinking, she did what?—you rented this place?

ALINE
I did. Thirty-five dollars a month. I told you I needed a new place to work, remember the big apartment building they're putting up on Riverside Drive? Stealing my light?

TOM
The bastards. Jesus-goddamn, what an absurd place. Only in New York could you steal light. Pretty soon they'll be charging you for water and selling you the rights to your own air.

ALINE
You see what a writer's imagination you have? I bet you're right! Writers see things the rest of us can't. Good writers, I mean.

TOM
It's just that I hadn't realized you meant to have a roommate.

ALINE
This would be so much better for you than a table at the Public Library.

TOM
I love working at the library.

ALINE
I'll admit, it's a powerful American image, perfect for your book, really. Makes New York sound like Athens. Better than Athens. I bet in Athens you had to be rich to write a book.

TOM
Impoverished genius has shelter, reference books, a big table, shared but clean.

ALINE
He produces a masterpiece, in pencil, on scraps of paper. Just like you. With assistance from a kindly librarian—

TOM
She gives me half her egg-salad sandwich.

ALINE
She exists?

TOM
Her mother makes her an egg-salad sandwich every day before dawn. In someplace called Morningside Heights. Don't you love it? Her job supports the family. The father disappeared.

ALINE
How sad. So, you're saying I'm not the only woman in town trying to feed you?

TOM
Egg-salad sandwiches make me gag. I had a warm one at a church picnic once. Threw up for a week. No, don't worry, I don't eat her sandwich. I put it in my coat pocket. It's wrapped in wax paper.

ALINE
Room temperature egg-salad, a recipe for disaster. You mean you take this girl's sandwich and you don't eat it?

TOM
I give it to the pigeons when I leave. You should see them fight over it. They don't know it's egg, see? It's just another free lunch to them. I'm tricking them into a kind of cannibalism. They'll gladly eat their own kind.

ALINE
You are an unusual tourist. Most of our visitors like the pigeons. They enjoy feeding them. Peanuts, breadcrumbs, that sort of thing. With you it's...what is it? Some kind of private joke.

[He bows, she laughs.]

God, I hope that poor girl isn't watching you from the library window, feeding her mother's egg-salad sandwich to the pigeons, her going hungry to help your art, and all.

TOM
No worry. She goes home at two. I don't leave until they close. No hurry to get back to my hotel. Nothing to do there but go back out.

ALINE
A hotel is all wrong for a man like you. Right away when we met I thought: this man needs peace. He deserves comfort, a decent chair, a really decent chair.

TOM
You're fixated on this chair. What color is it?

ALINE
Oxblood. Leather, of course. Everything should be arranged just so for this guy, I thought, so that he's as comfortable as that big, restless body can be. That's why the footstool, don't you see? You're so tall, and you must be able to put your feet up, and at the perfect distance. A chaise like that one won't do for those long legs, see?

TOM
Sometimes a fellow doesn't care if his feet hang off the edge. I mean a piece of furniture like this can be OK, fine in fact. Why don't you come over here? So I can show you what I mean.

[Embarrassed, she ignores his invitation, busying herself]

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