(An excerpt from Barry’s new book DO THE BLIND DREAM? published by Seven Stories Press, New York, April 2004.)
The most beautiful girl I ever saw was Princessa Paris, when she was seventeen and a half years old. I was almost seventeen when I met her. An older guy I knew from the neighborhood, Gus Argo, introduced me to Princessa—actually, she introduced herself, but Gus got me there—because he had a crush on her older sister, Turquoise, who was twenty-two. This was February of 1963, in Chicago. The street and sidewalks were coated with ice, a crust of hard, two day-old snow covered the lawns. Princessa attended a different high school than I did, but I had heard of the Paris sisters; their beauty was legendary on the Northwest side of the city.
Argo picked me up while I was walking home from the Red Hot Ranch, a diner I worked at four days a week, three afternoons after school and Saturdays. It was about eight o’clock when Gus spotted me hiking on Western Avenue. He was twenty-one and had worked at Allied Radio on Western for three years, ever since he’d graduated from high school. Argo had been a pretty good left-handed pitcher, I’d played ball with and against him a few times; he was a tough kid, and he had once backed me up in a fight. A gray and black Dodge Lancer pulled over to the curb and honked. I saw that the driver was Gus Argo, and I got in.
“Hey, Buddy, where you headed?”
“Thanks, Gus, it’s freezing. To my house, I guess. I just got off work.”
“Yeah, me, too, but I got to make a delivery first, drop off a hi-fi. Want to ride over with me? Won’t take long.”
“Your old lady got dinner waitin’?”
“No, she’s out.”
“Okay, maybe we’ll get a burger and coffee at Buffalo’s. I just got paid, so it’s on me.”
“Ever hear of the Paris sisters?”
“Yeah, everybody has. You know them?”
“I’m makin’ the delivery to their house. I been tryin’ to get up the nerve to ask Turquoise Paris to go out with me for two years.”
“Are they really so good looking?”
“I’d give anything to spend one day with Turquoise, to have one day’s worth of her beauty.”
“What about the other one?”
“Princessa? She’s almost eighteen, four years younger than Turquoise. I only saw her once, at the Granada on a Saturday. She’s a knockout, too.”
Gus cranked up the blower in the Dodge. The sky was clear black but the temperature was almost zero. The radiator in my room didn’t work very well; I knew I would have to sleep with a couple of sweaters on to stay warm. Argo parked in front of the Paris house and got out.
“Come in with me,” he said. “You can carry one of the boxes.”
Princessa opened the front door. She was almost my height, slender and small-breasted. Her lustrous chestnut hair hung practically to her waist. Once I was inside, in the light, I took a good look at her face. She reminded me of Hedy Lamarr in Algiers, wearing an expression that warned a man: If you don’t take care of me, someone else certainly will. Princessa’s complexion was porcelain smooth; I’d never before seen skin that looked so clean.
“You can just leave the boxes on the floor in the living room,” she told us. “My father will set it up when he gets home.”
“Who’s there, Cessa?”
Gus Argo and I looked up in the direction from which the voice asking this question had come. Gene Tierney stood at the top of the staircase. Or maybe it was Helen of Troy.
“The delivery boys,” Princessa answered. “They brought the new hi-fi.”
“Tell them to just leave the boxes in the living room. Daddy will set it up later.”
“I just did.”
The apparition on the staircase disappeared; she wasn’t coming down.
“Thanks, guys,” said Princessa. “I’d give you a tip but I don’t have any money. I can ask Turquoise if she does.”
“No,” Gus said, “it’s okay.”
He glanced at the top of the stairs once more, then walked out of the house.
“My name is Buddy,” I said to Princessa.
“Hi, Buddy.” she said, and held her right hand out to me. “I’m Cessa.”
I took her hand. It felt like a very small, freshly killed and skinned animal.
“Your hand is warm,” I said, holding it.
“My body temperature is always slightly above normal. The doctor says people’s temperatures vary.”
“It feels good. Mine is cold. I wasn’t wearing any gloves.”