New York Movie Edward Hopper 1939
Angie was rather a mousy girl. She sat typing in the office pool and always kept her legs neatly crossed. Her hair was a dingy pale straw, drawn back into a tidy French pleat, every pin in place. Her clothes were not cheap but they were not stylish either; long tweed skirts, simple white or blue blouses - with a little lace edging if she was in a really daring mood. Everything about her was uninteresting and unexciting. The men scarcely ever gave her a second glance.
While other girls gossiped and giggled about their various conquests and dates, she was smiling, attentive but aloof. Everyone supposed it was simply because, poor thing, she never seemed to have a date . . . so what was there to discuss? Who would fancy such a sad, prim little thing like her? The other girls looked upon her pityingly and with deep satisfaction. It is always pleasing to know someone is worse off than yourself.
When Angie was assigned to Jim Taylor as his personal secretary, no-one was that surprised for whatever else could be said about Angie, everyone agreed that she was a flawless typist, a hard worker and a conscientious character. The men felt rather sorry for Jim, not much fun to be had with Angie! But Jim was perfectly satisfied. He was quite a serious man himself and of an age when flirting with office girls was hardly the main thing on his mind. With a marriage and divorce beneath his belt, he considered himself beyond all that stuff. He knew it all, had seen life. Angie was calm, quiet and got on with the job. She never came in late or sat polishing her nails like some of the girls. He considered her to be a regular treasure and told the other men so.
“Ain’t no beatin’ that girl when it comes to dictation,” he said, “She can take a letter down almost before it’s outa your mouth.”
He had gone out of the office one morning to fetch some files from another department. When he came back he caught Angie in a moment of unusual repose. Normally she would be beavering away at her work, eyes bent down upon the papers. Now she was sitting upright yet relaxed, polishing her glasses with a small piece of soft material and gazing thoughtfully out of the window. Although her hands were moving, her body was held in an incredible stillness, almost transfixed as if in a deep trance.
He took some work over to her. With deep reluctance she brought her gaze back to this world and stared up at him, almost in surprise, as if he had no right to be there. Their eyes met and for the first time he noticed what beautiful blue eyes she had. They were so blue, like looking up at the skies on a rain-washed, sunny morning. She gave him a little fleeting smile, put her glasses back on again and hid once more behind those blurring lenses.
Jim returned to his work but couldn’t help glancing over at Angie now and then. He realised with surprise that he had never properly looked at her. He hadn’t spoken to her that much either. She was just someone efficient working for him, a machine, not a person. She and the typewriter were one in his mind. Now he felt as if he had been given a peep into her heart and that she didn’t want people peeping. That’s why she had glasses, to protect her inner self from prying eyes.
When she rose to fetch out a file from the cabinet, he noticed how slim and dainty her figure was and that the clothes she wore did her little justice. He felt a strange desire to take her to a store and buy her some attractive, modern clothing and bring out the beauty that he now saw for the first time lay hidden behind a frumpy mask she had created for herself. But it was none of his business, after all.
Jim was walking along Times Square one night, or rather he was weaving in and out evading the crowds of people scurrying hither and thither like crazy ants. He intended to call in at the Box Office and get himself a ticket for Saturday night. He loved the theatre, especially musicals and there was a good one on Broadway just now. He felt a little sad that he had no girlfriend, no one to keep him company, laugh with him and enjoy the music and the dancing. Still, that’s how it was. It wasn’t easy to strike up with a decent sort of girl and he wanted nothing of the other sort.
As he came away, his ticket safely in his pocket, he saw a smart and attractive woman walking swiftly past. She was dressed in a tight-fitting black suit, black high heels and had a stunning figure. Her long hair curling to her shoulders was a shining blonde. She seemed to breathe forth a haze of tantalising perfume that lingered long in the air after she had passed, drawing one along just to inhale that glorious scent. He couldn’t help but follow her, admiring the long slender legs encased in shiny nylons, the seam running straight up the back of her leg . . . his heart lurched a little at the thought. What a gal!
She entered a drugstore and he followed her in, trying to look casual, trying to be unobtrusive. He didn’t want her to think he was stalking her or something and call the cops. She sat in a darkened corner and he walked past her quietly, taking a sideways peep at her. She glanced up and their eyes met. She looked swiftly away.
My God, what a shock!
Jim walked on past, his heart pounding for he would have recognised those lovely blue eyes anywhere.
Jim sat nursing his coffee and briefly looked up when he heard Angie call the boy and pay her bill. This odd encounter shook him in so many ways. Firstly that he would never have recognised Angie in this totally new guise if he hadn’t looked at her for the first time the other day in the office. Secondly that a person could so alter themselves with a little makeup, lovely clothes, a seductive walk and an air of confidence. Nobody would have thought the invisible, mousy Angie of the typing pool could be this stunner he’d just come across.
When Angie came in the next day, Jim looked at her but she refused to meet his eye. She simply said her usual quiet, “Good morning, Mr. Taylor,” and proceeded about her work as always.
He longed to ask her . . . Angie, why do you hide your beauty like this? What’s going on with you? But he dared not. After all, it wasn’t anything to do with him what she did away from work. And he felt instinctively that she wanted to keep her other life or identity a secret. He obeyed this unspoken request. He never breathed a word to anyone. Yet he longed to know for himself.
It was a week later before Jim plucked up the courage to speak to Angie about anything but work. He had by this time become obsessed by her. His gaze followed her covertly as she moved about the office. He kept trying to picture her as he had seen her that day in Times Square. He tried again and again to catch her eye whenever he spoke to her but she refused to look him in the eye again. It was frustrating, tantalising, like a delicious fruit out of reach, mocking him. One day, he just couldn’t help himself.
“Yes, Mr. Taylor?”
“Jim, call me Jim. Guess you know me long enough now.”
She looked up briefly but lowered her gaze again. She made no response.
“Angie, would you like to join me for a drink…after work? You’ve done swell this last coupla weeks and it’s been a tough assignment, I know. I kinda want to treat you . . . for working so hard.” He couldn’t believe he was finding it so difficult to ask a girl out, a man of his age. He felt as red-faced and hesitant as a teenage boy.
She looked up at him again and even through those glasses he could see the beauty of those blue eyes. How had anyone ever thought this girl a drab? He drew in his breath with longing.
“It’s very kind of you, Mr. Taylor,” she replied in her clear, calm voice that appeared to have not a trace of emotion in it, “but I’m busy tonight. I’m meeting my boyfriend.”
This was a blow right in the gut. For some reason he simply hadn’t put a boyfriend in the equation. However, because she didn’t talk about these things like the other silly girls, because she held herself aloof, didn’t mean there wasn’t a man in her life. Of course there must be! Who wouldn’t want a stunner like her? He felt utterly deflated and smiled weakly.
“Oh, well, lucky guy, eh? Some other time maybe . . . or is he the jealous sort?”
Angie smiled enigmatically, gathered her gloves and hat as she prepared to leave. He came over and put her coat on for her, a surprise gesture. She thanked him, accepting it almost as her due.
Jim felt almost heartbroken. He was acting like a fool but he was the one eaten up with jealousy right now.
Jim began to take to following Angie. She was such a mystery and he had to know more about her, he couldn’t let it be. Who was this lucky guy who had snaffled her and kept her beauty such a secret? One evening, he followed her to the subway and got on the train with her, noting that she alighted near Washington Square and began to walk a very roundabout route apparently towards Greenwich Village. He then made use of the darker evening to slip along behind her like some invisible shadow till she came to a small shabby street with old houses. It wasn’t easy to follow her. Angie seemed as nervous as a cat and would keep stopping, glancing around and behind her almost as if she expected to be followed. When she reached a small bookshop in Crayton Street, she swiftly opened a small door at the side and he caught a glimpse of some stairs, presumably leading to an upstairs apartment. After a while, a light came on in the room over the shop and Angie came to the windows to draw the curtains.
Jim took note of the building and went off for a coffee and a doughnut. For some reason he couldn’t explain, he felt an urge to return again after an hour and stood on the other side of the street in a darkened doorway looking up at the window. The light was still on up there. After a while, he began to feel a little chilly and was just about to leave, telling himself that he was a middle-aged fool, probably going crazy or something. What right had he to stalk this poor girl? He felt a sudden sense of shame.
Then the light went off and his attention was caught again. It wasn’t yet eight o’clock. She couldn’t be going to bed. Maybe she was going out to meet the boyfriend. The small door to the street now opened and out walked the vision of loveliness that was the other Angie, the inaccessible, mysterious unknown beauty. As always, she wore black, a sleek long dress to her ankles. She looked so lovely that Jim caught his breath. God she was like a film star! How come this dame was just a secretary when she was such a beauty that she oughta be in Hollywood, for Chrissake! But maybe this boyfriend was possessive, didn’t want other men fancying his woman. Well, he didn’t blame him; he’d be just the same.
She called a cab now and this was annoying but now he was in it up to the neck and hell bent on playing detective. He caught another cab and followed her till they reached W 50th St. and Taft’s Hotel. Here was the rather modest entrance to the Roxy Cinema where she alighted. He also got out a little way along the road and by the time he had paid the driver, she had disappeared inside the foyer. Once inside, one was always dazzled by the Roxy interior. It was such a grand cinema with huge, long, glittering chandeliers that fell like cascades of light from the ceiling and wide, sweeping stairs that curved up endlessly into the heavens. It was truly a Picture Palace, a fitting venue for such a glamorous gal. He went in but saw no sign of her. He didn’t have a ticket for this show and the queue at the Box Office was a long one. It was a great film starring Matteson Clark and Dolores Delaney, a romantic weepie and the smartly dressed ladies looked as if they were getting their lace-edged hankies ready for the occasion.
However, Jim decided against queuing up for a ticket. Angie had disappeared and if she saw him there, she might well complain to her beau that some smart-ass from the office was bothering her and he’s end up with a black eye for his pains. Some boyfriend though! Hadn’t even taken her to the premiere a week ago when all the stars had been there. Jim had read about it in the papers, seen the pictures of Matteson and Dolores, grinning at one another, draped together as if they were an item. There had been loads of comments and speculations about all that from the gossip columnists. Jim would have coughed up the dough and taken her to that, given her a treat, a special night. Who knows but some Hollywood producer might have spotted her amongst the crowd and signed her up then and there. She was a whole heap better looking than that Dolores Delaney.
In the office, he and Angie remained polite, withdrawn, distant. Jim didn’t dare appear too familiar or interested in her but that didn’t stop his watching her all the time though he felt that she knew and it bothered her. He’d have to be careful but he simply couldn’t keep away. Despite himself, he couldn’t resist following her again the next night. To his surprise, she did exactly the same thing. She came out of her little apartment, hailed a cab and though he couldn’t keep up with her this time, he had a strange feeling she was going back to the Roxy. He couldn’t explain why he thought so, but he did. This time, when he entered the foyer, he spotted her coming out of the ladies restroom and make her way inside the cinema, looking a million dollars as usual. Luckily she didn’t look around her. But where was the boyfriend? Perhaps he was already inside the theatre and she had just slipped out for a moment to visit the washroom. Today Jim was armed with a ticket he had purchased earlier. So what if she saw him? He was entitled to go the pictures like anyone else, especially to see the film of the moment. He also went into the stalls and the usherette showed him to his seat.
He looked around him at the dim lit stalls, already crowded with people, waiting for the programme to begin. He spotted Angie on a seat across by the aisle and near the exit door. There didn’t seem to be anyone at all accompanying her. No big hunk, no sturdy protective male companion. A small, elderly lady was seated next to her but the lady was deep in conversation with a gent beside her and didn’t seem to take any notice of Angie who sat alone there, on the edge of the aisle. Jim frowned. How odd. And this was the second time she had come to see this film.
The film began and, the usual cartoons and B movies over, the main film at last began. It was a pretty dopey film in Jim’s estimation, a spy type, thriller-cum romance that frankly left him cold. Sure that Matteson guy was a good-looker whose shirt seemed to have permanently lost its buttons, revealing his stalwart chest for the ladies to gawp at. But he was a lousy actor, no two ways. Jim kept glancing over at Angie. He could see her leaning forward a little when the film began and her eyes seemed riveted to the screen. When Matteson came on, she sat bolt upright, he even saw her clasp her hands. Gee, what did she see in that guy? There was no understanding women. All the other women there were also sighing and looking entranced by that beefcake. Jim shook his head in disbelief.
Then half way through the film, an even odder thing happened. He saw Angier rise quietly from her seat and stand for a moment or so in the aisle with an anguished expression on her face. Then she turned and made her way out of the exit and disappeared. Jim couldn’t watch the rest of the film. It was crap anyway. He also rose amidst annoyed murmurs and made his way out. She had purposely asked for the seat near the aisle so as to make a get away if she wanted, that was evident. He had to find his way out of another door entirely and by the time he had surfaced into the foyer, she had disappeared.
So what, Jim wondered, had happened to the boyfriend? Did the boyfriend even exist?
The next day, when Angie came into the office, Jim felt he had to ask her what was going on. She felt a part of his life and yet she wasn’t. He wanted her to be, he wanted it so much but he knew that she was too classy a dame for him. She belonged elsewhere.
“Angie,” he said hesitantly, “I know it’s none of my business but I was in Roxy’s Picture Palace last night and I know I saw you there, so don’t try to make out like you weren’t. Angie, are you in some sort of trouble? I wanna help you, so much. Wish you’d let me help if you’re in trouble. You looked so upset.”
Angie looked a little shocked. “Guess, I didn’t see you there . . . but then why would I? I kept looking out for him and I know he was there. They won’t leave me alone,” she added, looking troubled
“Who are they, for Chrissake? Someone botherin’ you Angie? If they are jest tell me and I’ll sort ‘em out for you.”
She smiled wanly, “You’re a good guy, Mr. Taylor, a real kind guy. It’s just that my husband’s been having me followed. You mustn’t breath a word of all this, promise?” and she clutched at his sleeve as she said this and looked so frightened, that Jim felt his heart melt.
“Sure, I won’t!”
Now she was married. Even worse.
“Why’s your husband having you followed though . . . you ain’t together any more . . . I guess,” he added hastily, for he didn’t want her to know he too had followed her to the dingy little Greenwich apartment.
“No, we’re getting a divorce. He’s got another woman – or so he says. But he’s crazy, he’s such a bastard, no one ever dreams what a bastard that man is!” she exclaimed bitterly. “He doesn’t want me but he doesn’t want anyone else having me either. He is so jealous and possessive, like he owns everyone. So he’s got some private dick to follow me and keep tabs on me. I’ve seen the guy, I know it. I’ve changed my apartment three times already but he always seems to find me. I think I’ve shaken him off for the moment. A friend has lent me her place so hopefully he hasn’t traced me to it yet. And I don’t think anyone else knows I work here.”
“So your real name’s not Angie Howard?”
“No, but I won’t tell you my real name. I don’t want anyone else getting mixed up in all this. He’s threatened to shoot me and any guy he sees me with. Don’t you see how dangerous it is to be seen with another man, however innocently?”
“Gee, that’s crazy, Angie,” said Jim, “you gotta get outa this situation, tell the cops or somethin’ . . . get protection for yourself. I’ll shoot the guy myself if he comes gunnin’ for you.”
She smiled a little, “You’re so sweet! But I wouldn’t want that. Besides, Mr. Taylor, you don’t understand. I still love him, I still love my husband...”and she choked on a sudden sob and to Jim’s dismay, she began to weep bitterly.. He shut the office door and took her in his arms, let her sob on his shoulder. It would be the first and last time he would ever have her in his arms, he thought sadly.
About a week later, Angie Howard gave in her notice and left. Jim was heartbroken. She said goodbye to him and thanked him for his kindness.
“You’ve been great . . . Jim,” she said and shook his hand.
“But Angie, where you going? Don’t let that bum keep you on the run.”
She smiled. “It’s all right, Jim . . . we’ve decided to get together again. Guess his new woman wasn’t such a big deal after all. I’ve forgiven him, anyway and I’m going back.”
“Well, good luck, Angie . . . it’s been great knowing you.”
And she gave him a long kiss on his lips.
Reading the paper a week or so later, Jim came across the gossip column and scanned it perfunctorily. He was seldom interested in that sort of scandal-mongering. But then he did a double take and stared at the page before him. There was a fantastic picture of Angie in a clinging silk dress . . . and there she was holding the arm and gazing up adoringly at that puffed up heart-throb, Mattheson Clark.
That nasty woman columnist, Heidi Hugger, said that Matt and his gorgeous wife, Mary Malone, had got together again after a bitter row over his affair with Dorothy Delaney and wondered bitchily just how long it would last this time?
Wow, and Mary Malone had kissed him, Jim Taylor, on the lips!
© 2002 Loretta Proctor