The Abbey

by Frank Diamond

Me: “Why, you’re cruisin’ for a bruisin’.”

Tracey: “Anglin’ for a manglin’.”

Me: “Bouncin’ for a trouncin’.”

Tracey: “Houndin’ for a poundin’.”

Me: “Boundin’ for a crownin’.”

It usually stops about then—or at least pauses (“pausin’ for a causin’”), but might start up again somewhere else along the night. Those golden glorious partying nights of long ago. That sounds Broadway, doesn’t it? Hilarium, we called it. You know, a mix of hilarious and helium. Yeah, we made up words. We were going to be famous. Each of us. We never knew when to stop. For everything.

A crew of us sexy young girls hanging out, but that particular back-and-forth had been a Sophia (me) and Tracey skit. I’m talking about the ’90s when I lived in Hoboken and worked my first job—our first jobs—out of college in publishing in New York City. The city. 

Tracey and I, we’d goof like that at the Abbey, a hard-core Irish bar on Third Avenue on the East Side close to Chelsea. (It’s something else, now—another place.) The bartenders with their brogues; country boys from a distant country. One of them telling me that the pickup line in his village was: “And how many cows have you?” They looked out for us, though, and if any cruiser acted like a jag-off he’d get tossed. 

Guys always circled. Some supermodel I met back then, the flavor of the year, told me I could never do her job because I’m too opinionated. Apparently, models can be beautiful and smart, but having opinions isn’t camera friendly. 

I have long straight black hair with bangs, brown eyes, and legs that … well, as one guy summed up my physical attributes “nice, nice, nice.” And my current SO swears there’s a painting of me in my attic that shows what I must really look like because I don’t look that much different than 20 years ago. DNA, I suppose. I don’t drink anymore, either. Tuckers me out. Soon, maybe in the next five years or so, I’ll have to start dyeing my hair. Or not.

And Tracey back then? Well, Tracey’s red hair fell in waves that crashed upon her shoulders and she could have been Amy Adams’s twin sister, except Amy Adams was some years from being discovered so Tracey was incomparably beautiful. Nice, nice, nice. But what drove the bartenders and the other guys at the Abbey crazy was her brogue; of the Scottish variety, in her case. Her smile glowed like a fireplace on a snowy night. We, all us girls, attracted guys on the make. Tracey attracted them, too, but also the shy ones, the lonely ones, the brittle and bruised ones. They sensed her kindness.

And, best of all, Tracey could really throw back the booze. Even whiskey. And her laugh spiced every conversation. 

I mean, talk about fun, man! We were in our 20s and hedonism ruled. Somebody with a stick up his ass once told me that there’s no truth in hedonism, and I told him to just give it time. That was who we were—who I was—back then, and truth didn’t have much to do with it. What is truth? Now, facts, they matter. We majored in journalism and some of us got jobs in newspapers and lost jobs in newspapers when newspapers started dying and they’re still dying and that’s about all I’m going to say about that.

I’m an editor now for a marketing gulag that helps pharma companies get their latest and greatest through the FDA and out to the American consumer. In other words, I moved to the dark side. But until I hit the lottery…. It keeps me halfway engaged, or I would have bailed by now. All that fine print, man? Like the instructions, disclaimers, directions, and warnings stapled to the little white bag that you don’t read when you get your drugs? Now that matters. Those are facts and that’s the truth. 

Yeah, we weren’t thinking about truth. Or maybe some of us did some of the time but then the rest would be, like, “puh-lease!” I wore short skirts and partied like it was 1999, although that was still some years off. It was guys and booze and good times. Mostly. No drugs; that didn’t do it for us. Or, at least for me. Girls I knew did drugs, it became like a full-time job—work—and it didn’t always end in disaster. But, rock and roll, baby! Almost forgot that one. Knew all the lyrics, could dirnt-dirnt-dirnt the guitar riffs. 

It wasn’t as if we said we didn’t someday want a so-called normal life; you know, hubby and kids and the white picket fence. It wasn’t a decision or a declaration. Some of us thought that’d probably be coming, some of us didn’t, and some of us didn’t give a shit. Sometimes, all during the same cab ride. 

I never married, just never found the right one, I suppose, but I may just shock the hell out of everyone with a later-in-life marriage. Notice I don’t say late-in-life. I still got something in the tank, amiga. 

I know, I know. You can get caught in the nostalgia trap, thinking how everything back then glowed. No. We bitched and moaned (we joked that Moan, Bitch! was our favorite magazine) and were mostly broke. Cravings and desires and struggling and suffering. The wheel. 

But also laughing and talking and having fun. 

And the snow falling quietly on the streets some nights and the rain against the windows, but also the sun dappling the corners of buildings. And the Twin Towers rising above it all sturdy and indestructible. Oh, what did we know? 

Watching some friends take the deep dive into philosophy and some finding love and some losing love and I may have been in love a couple times and even had my heart broken. Some doing art and some doing music and some accountants more creative than all of us put together. And, really, we should have been born earlier; like been hippie chicks in the ’60s.

And looking up one day to find it’s 25 years later and I get a letter from Tracey and I know without opening what it’s about. Because where she’s at, letters are verboten. Where she’s at everything’s verboten. 

I go upstairs and into the attic. Tap tap tap on the roof. It’s raining. I sit on a crate not caring that I breathe in dust that hovers like cigarette smoke. I am an archeologist digging into my past, routing around in another open crate in front of me marked “Abbey.” 

I find the pix and there’s the six of us, the Group. I still keep in touch with who’s left. I mean, we’re talking not much more than occasional Facebook back-and-forths, and it can be years between those. But two in the photo are gone. One overdosed on opioids. And then there’s Tracey. Her’s is the strangest path of all. 

I suppose this is the melodramatic part, what I’d cross out with a big red X in a writers workshop. 

I open her letter. In the guarded light of the dangling bulb I read. And, yes, it is goodbye. They sent it after she died of uterine cancer. The beautiful, golden Tracey is no more. I hold her life in my hands. She found the “man” she loved, and “married”; she stuck it out to the end. I read it a couple of times. Then I reach into the crate again, pull out another talisman. 

“Hello,” I say to this sheet of paper. 

So many scraps in these crates full with notes for books I never finished, and scenes for plays I never finished, and … so much that I never finished. Not much for finishing. 

And then, and then….

I’m atheist so I won’t call it the Spirit that moves me in this moment, but I see my near future cavorting in the shadows of the attic as the rain kicks into a drumity-drum. I am still staring at my future and in this ultrasound-like vision I am finishing. Plays, and novels, and poetry, and short stories because Tracey, now outside of time, can give me time. Time to create. 

“That’s your problem,” she said to me once. Or, I should say shouted because this was, of course, at the Abbey with that music. “You’re an artist who’s not creating.”

“Work sucks all the juice out of me.”

“We got to carve out space for you, Sophie-girl!”

“Yeah, baby, win the lottery.”

And she smiled at her reflection in the mirror behind the bar but I felt she didn’t really see herself. I realize now that she was looking at me now, in this moment. Looking into my future, or my nowness. Sounds like voodoo-bullshit, I know. I’m only telling it like I feel it. 

I won’t say how much the money order is for. But it buys me five years of freedom, at least. A half-decade or more for me to create. There’s a yellow sticky note Tracey wrote: “Genius grant.” I will quit my job tomorrow. 

Some rich relative of Tracey’s died and I suppose some other relative (or maybe a friend?—another nun?) kept the money with instructions and that’s the person who mailed me this. For some reason they couldn’t mail it to me earlier; like years earlier. Maybe some day I’ll find out why. No return address on the envelop. Talk about casting your bread upon the waters. This message that changes my life depended on the Postal Service to deliver it. 

I read a scene I’d written back then, back in the Abbey days. There’s a note at the top to myself: “Change the names.” I never got around to it.

A bit of poetry here and there. I look at the poem that had been wrapped around the money order. No title

Lives a sister quiet and still
Back turned toward the windowsill
Despite despair, still standing
Passengered on a train gone rambling
Through memories forged in valles of stone
Wheelbarrowed from zone to zone
And I do remember Ian
And I do remember Saul
And I do remember Nelson
Though I don’t remember all
Just below the unlaunched laughter
The hidden spring flows faster
Into this corporeal world floats music
Echoing behind a screen translucent
My search for Him nears ending
Joy that awaits beyond rendering
Joy to which I’m now surrendering
In that quiet space, my secretarium
I find my Lord, my God, my True Hilarium

“Not bad, Tracey,” I think. 

I imagine her eyes squinting me into focus as they sometimes did back in Abbey days, her skeptical, beautiful little “don’t try bullshitting me” smirk. 

I say aloud: “Well, maybe a bit over the top but, still, not bad at all.” 

I can almost hear her. 

“Aye!”

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