The Writers Voice
Favourite Literary Website
House of Diamonds
Lee-Diamond sat on the patio with both feet propped
up on the seat of the chair in front of her. She
had taken off her red plastic shoes and they stood
toe to toe on the table next to the empty lemonade
pitcher. Her skirt was pulled up above her knees to
catch the late afternoon sun, and a careful look at
her legs would reveal varicose veins in a fine
network of lavender and blue lines like those on a
rare old ceramic vase. She was edgy and from time
to time she checked her wristwatch, flexing her
elbow to bring the time into focus. That was the
problem. TIME! She had no idea there would be so
Somerset watched her from the kitchen window. He
shook his head sadly and crossed to the opposite
wall to check the calendar hanging next to the
refrigerator. It was turned to the month of
October. An impossibly blue picture of the Riviera
smiled down on the days he had crossed out
diligently from the first to the twentieth. "Ten
days to go," he sighed. He had every intention of
leaving the House of Diamonds the end of October.
He buttled for Marcus Diamond more than twenty
years before the Madam intruded. Now, with Marcus
gone, there was no one to buttle for. No woman,
even a woman as unfathomable as the old lady
outside, needs a butler. She needs, well Somerset
didn't really know what she needed, but it
certainly wasn't him, and it certainly wasn't the
side show that dropped in every day for cocktails
either. He shuddered when he thought of what old
man Marcus would think of these ex burlesquers;
comedians, jugglers and haggard old strippers
lolling about the House of Diamonds! When they
gathered on the patio in the afternoon for drinks
it looked like feeding time at the zoo.
He thought back to the special relationship he had
with the late Marcus Diamond. Master and servant --
they lived in perfect harmony. But, sadly, that
relationship was shattered when Ruby Lee walked
into Marcus Diamond's life. The man to man
camaraderie was lost; Somerset was not on the
inside any more.
First, the cook left and the Madam hired an Italian
juggler she knew from the old burlesque days.
Somerset couldn't stand him. Madam sold the sports
car that he and Mr. Diamond had so much fun in. She
kept the limo but fired the chauffeur and hired an
old friend, a fat stand-up comic who could barely
fit behind the steering wheel. What did Mr. Diamond
see in the Madam anyway? She was loud, brassy and
bawdy. Somerset, who prided himself on a life
without female entanglements, couldn't understand
the Madam at all.
He placed a fresh pitcher of lemonade on the silver
tray and walked through the French doors to the
patio. Under his breath he muttered, "ten more
Ruby Lee frowned at the empty pitcher on the table
next to her as Somerset walked soberly through the
French doors from the living room.
"No, Somerset! Absolutely -- no! No more lemonade.
I'd like a gin on the rocks. Just gin. Nothing but
gin and ice."
"Madam you ..."
"Yes I know, I know -- no more gin for the Madam.
The Madam's liver is kaput; like ninety percent of
the rest of the Madam." She swung her feet from the
chair and let them drop like blocks of stone to the
patio floor. "I'm bored with life Somerset -- bored
out of my mind. Except for the few lost souls
wandering around here, everyone I've ever known is
dead, or moved to Philadelphia."
his usual reticence, remained at attention after
placing the pitcher of lemonade on the patio table.
He hesitated to speak unless spoken to, but in this
case he thought it best to remind madam of the
"It's five p.m. Madam. I thought it best to remind
Madam she likes to eat early."
"I like to eat early because I like to go to bed
early -- so I can wake up early and start the day
with the birds. Early to bed early to rise,
Somerset. Makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise --
but it doesn't do a woman any good at all."
Somerset regretted staying on the year after Mr.
Diamond died, but he reminded himself that Mr.
Diamond would have wanted him to watch over the
Madam. He looked out over the four acres that for
better or worse had been the limit of his life for
the last thirty years. The landscape company didn't
tend the flower beds as lovingly as their old
gardener did. The rose beds in particular looked
spiky, petals littered the cracked earth and the
bushes showed signs of aphids and beetles, but the
lawns were still well mowed. Somerset loved to walk
those four acres in the evening -- after Madam had
"You like it here Somerset, don't you?"
"Yes Ma'am I do." He turned back to Mrs. Diamond.
"It's going to be very hard to leave here."
"You don't have to go, Somerset. You're the only
normal person in the house -- I need somebody to
keep me on the straight and narrow."
"It's nearly 5:30 Madam."
Lee-Diamond crowded her feet into her red shoes,
gathered her legs under her and made an effort to
get out of her chair, hardly aware of Somerset's
strong and steady hand on her arm.
"You never saw 'Tassels' in action did you
"I don't think so Madam."
"Tassels LeSeur ... I got the LeSeur off a can of
peas." Mrs. Diamond drew herself up to full height,
her eyes now on a level with Somerset's stick pin.
"I could make one spin this way and one spin ...
that way. Takes practice Somerset; and of course
you gotta have the boobs to begin with. I've only
got one boob now, I can only go ... this way." She
tilted her head sideways and looked at him
critically, as though he were a figure in a wax
museum. "You don't know what the hell I'm talking
about, do you Somerset?"
Somerset thought he might get away without
answering, but Mrs. Diamond was adamant.
"Well, ... do you?"
"I think so Madam."
"I doubt it. You buttled for my husband twenty
years before I showed up, didn't you, Somerset?
What do you call a lady butler -- a 'buttress?
That's about what I was." Then, with a slow
and careful dancing motion she waltzed her way to
the French doors. "You know how my husband got rich
"He was in the theater, Madam."
"He owned burlesque houses, Somerset -- didn't he
ever tell you? ... 'Course he did. 'Boiler-Q'
he called them. Milwaukee, Cedar Rapids, Davenport,
Tacoma ... even Allentown, Pennsylvania. Wherever
in the country the man of the house couldn't
get his rocks off, ol' Marcus Diamond put up a
She jabbed a finger into Somerset's middle. "I did
my bubble act in every one of "'em, Somerset. I was
a headliner, not like those has-beens in the living
room." Her eyes grew moist and she looked vacantly
in the general direction of New York City. "The big
time was here, right here in the Big Apple -- this
is where Marcus found me. At the 'Palladio,' along
that beautiful porno strip called 42nd Street ...
street of sin. Great name for a Boiler-Q, huh,
Somerset -- 'Palladio!'" She turned to go into the
living room and paused to look at Somerset. She
stood theatrically with one hand on the door jamb.
"But you know all that, Somerset ... why am I going
over it again?"
"It's nearly 5:30 Madam."
"Let me hear you say, 'it's nearly 5:30 Ruby Lee.'"
Somerset sighed and almost imperceptibly raised his
eyebrows. "It's nearly 5:30 Ruby Lee."
"No sweat, Somerset."
She grumbled to herself, "If he'd only stop calling
me, Madam. I'm not a Madam -- I'm an artiste." She
made that choice in the beginning. No cathouse for
Ruby Lee. How many of her friends had gone that
route? All too many. How many did she visit in
hospital wards -- in rehab -- in jail. They were so
pretty in the beginning, hardly into their teens
... 'Just 'til I get on my feet.' 'If you're smart
you can make a lot of money, Ruby.' I wish he'd
stop calling me, Madam... "
She stood looking at her friends in the living room
-- they weren't really friends -- they were the
has-beens, the cast-offs of the old routines that
played the burlesque circuits from the Black Hills
of South Dakota to Allentown, Pennsylvania. Saddest
of all were the surviving members of the two man
comedy teams who still remembered the jokes they
told while their partners were alive. Their eager
feverish eyes would dart from person to person
waiting for a laugh that rarely came. "I know
you're out there -- I can hear you breathing."
Jimmie Silvers was over in the corner. He sat in a
corner of the sofa with a pillow behind him. His
legs were spread wide in front of him as he leaned
into the room, his arms gesticulating in long
graceful sweeps. He was going over routines from
forty years ago, never missing a beat -- only
one person listening. "You never know," he
explained eagerly. "I could get called back
... back on the circuit. I'm as funny as I ever
was, even funnier without Shields."
His audience was Princess Do Me, the former
Cherokee burlesque comedienne, whose old act
combined stripping and lewd barnyard monologues
designed to titillate the lusty cattlemen
west of Cedar Rapids. She was over sixty now and
weighed nearly 300 pounds. She laughed at
everything, admired everything and drank enough for
three people. She heard Jimmie's jokes a thousand
time but couldn't resist bursting into gales of
laughter whenever he told one. She overflowed
an armless chair and it gave the impression that
she was actually not sitting at all, but squatting
in the middle of the room.
Ruby considered asking them to stay for dinner, but
why? It would only depress her further, and she
couldn't bear having to sit through another hour of
Jimmie Silvers. "Okay! Time's up folks! See you
tomorrow!" It was the only way to get rid of them.
They would stay there forever if she didn't tell
them to get out -- like children at a birthday
party they had to be shooed home. Ruby, well aware
of their tendency to stay rooted to where they
were, was forced to tell them to leave every
afternoon. Today there were only two of them -- the
Princess and Jimmie Silvers, on rainy days there
might be as many as a dozen old burlesque queens,
two or three comedians and a toothless saxophone
The princess leaned forward, and by the force of
gravity, slowly staggered to a standing position.
She was still quivering with residual laughter,
wiping the corner of her eyes with a cocktail
napkin. "Oh Jimmy, you're making my mascara run!
You're such a funny man. Ruby -- thank you dear,
I've had a lovely afternoon." She stifled a belch.
"Come Jimmy, you can tell me another on the way
Jimmy took one of the princess' meaty arms and
stuffed it under his own. "Thanks a mill, Rube ol'
girl, can't remember when I've had such a good
time. I'll be back later in the week. Did I tell ya
I'm interviewin' a new agent tomorra? I got one now
who's older'n me."
"See them out, please Somerset, they may not be
able to find the door." She
watched them follow Somerset, their steps were
unsteady and while Princess Do Me's unsteadiness
was a lethargic side to side rolling, like a ship
low in the water, Jimmy's was a nervous jiggling.
He caromed off the Princess like a bagatelle ball.
Her people! The relics of her past; they would
always be her people and she could not do without
them anymore than the snapshots she saved from her
childhood. You don't have to look at them every day
but you know they're there and you would risk
running back into a burning building to save them
from the fire. Her chauffeur would drive them back
to the city and the house would be empty again.
She heard the front door close and saw Somerset
standing in the foyer. She walked over to him and
together they watched the Princess and Jimmy climb
into the back of the limo.
"There they go, Somerset -- the last roses of
Somerset, in a rare vocal mood, agreed. "They are
the sweetest, Madam."
There was an unspoken bond between them. Ruby and
her friends -- Somerset and his attachment to the
old House of Diamonds. Neither could walk away and
leave their yesterdays behind. Now, in the last
glow of this all too fleeting day, they both
accepted the fact that they were bound to the past.
"Dinner time, Madam."
"Is Somerset your first name, Somerset?"
"I really can't remember, Madam."
"Can't remember! Of course you can remember, you
must have been a little boy years ago. What did
your mother call you?"
Somerset screwed up his face and watched the limo
as it drove away. "I seem to recall, Madam ... it
was so long ago, but I think I remember her calling
me ... Willie."
Ruby shook her head sadly. "Oh, that's sad. Tell
you what; I don't call you Willie and you don't
call me Madam." She started for the dining room,
then turned to say ... "C'mon Somerset, let's eat."
Critique this work
Click on the book to leave a comment about this work