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sure he found the perfect apartment. "Lincoln
House" was two blocks from his office in
Lincoln Square and regardless of the weather or the
day of the week, he would be able to sleep late, if
Barbara let him, that is.
Best of all they would be living together. "Living
together!" It sounded great to an out-of-towner
like Stephen. He was sick and tired of rolling out
of Barbara's apartment at three in the morning,
saying goodnight to her nosy doorman and finding
his way home. Living together was what New York was
all about, all the advantages of married life with
none of the commitments and chains of matrimony.
Wedded bliss might be all right for some people,
but not for Barbara and him. Not right now -- some
other time. Bliss was all they needed. Bliss was
all they wanted.
It was a little pricey, but looking ahead and
counting on a raise or two ... and a little
financial help from Barbara ... he was sure he
could swing it. His duplex in Murray Hill was nice
enough in the beginning but the cross-town commute
was murder. Manhattan is a north south town, and if
you have to get from east to west it's bad news.
The apartment overlooked the north plaza of Lincoln
Center and by stretching his neck a little at the
living room window he could see a corner of Central
Park. Living room, bedroom, kitchen and bath --
almost more room than they needed. He'd have to get
a chair for the living room and a kitchen table ...
but not right away, Barbara had a few pieces too,
she would probably want to bring them. All in good
time, "Don't sweat the details," he reminded
himself. Most impressive of all, he would have a
doorman now. Only four people on his floor, all of
them singles -- paired off and living together but
single. La Dolce Vita! The only downside to the new
apartment was the previous tenant committed suicide
At least the rental agent was up front about it
from the first ... right from the beginning Javits
said, "You'll find out for yourself sooner or later
so I better tell you now ...." but instead of
continuing, Javits held the lease and the pen in
his hand and looked at Stephen for a sign of
"What's the problem?" Stephen asked.
"Well .... no problem really. The previous tenant
.... man by the name of Lennie Baker committed
suicide in here, that's all." Javits dismissed the
information with a wave of his hand. "That doesn't
trouble you, Mr. Whitman -- does it?" He asked the
question somewhat plaintively.
The apartment was still too attractive a deal to
"We've repainted," Javits went on.
"The whole place?"
"Well no, not exactly. Just the room -- you know?
The room he did it in."
He just about decided he was going to take the
place in spite of Lennie Baker and his suicide, and
for his own peace of mind he didn't want to know
any more details. Javits, mistaking a reluctant
decision for indecision, handed the lease and the
pen to Stephen and rubbed his hands together. Then,
almost as though he were confiding a secret, said
he would sweeten the deal. He offered to cut the
rent twenty dollars -- not a big deal, Stephen
thought, when you're paying $1500 a month, but it
was a gentle and effective nudge. He went for it.
"You'll like the place, Mr. Whitman. Nice people on
this floor -- singles you know?" He gave Stephen
half a wink as he pulled two brass keys out of his
side pocket and told him to stay as long as he
"You probably have to make plans, you know -- where
to put the furniture and all that. Let me know
soon's y'can when you think you'll be moving in,
okay? We'll give the place a final dusting down."
They walked to the door and Javits touched two
fingers to his forehead in an informal salute, then
smiled and was gone.
Stephen closed the door softly behind him and
looked across the small foyer and into the living
room. There's something tragic about an empty
apartment, he thought. It's cold and it's hollow.
It isn't only because of the emptiness -- the
emptiness is no surprise. Indeed, it would be
strange to find someone living in an empty
apartment. But it's dispiriting and tragic all the
same. Someone once lived here and there's a hollow
echoing where that someone was.
He walked into the living room and noticed an oval
of lighter wallpaper at eye level where Lennie
Baker's sofa might have been. A picture? Of what --
of whom? In the kitchenette a calendar still hung
crookedly on the wall by the phone. Two months old.
April, with the days 'exed' out up to the 27th. Was
that the day? What brought things to a head on
April 27th? What made life such an insurmountable
burden on just that one particular day?
Was this the room in which he killed himself?
Probably not -- "People don't kill themselves in
kitchens," Stephen said to himself. He found
himself wishing he'd asked Javits more about it.
With a start he looked at his watch. Nearly six.
Barbara would be home by now. He absent-mindedly
picked up the phone to dial her number. It was
disconnected -- of course it would be, he reminded
himself. "What's the matter with me?" he asked
himself. He normally didn't make mistakes like
that. The smart thing to do would be to get over to
Barbara's apartment and give her the good news,
call the phone company from there, take her to
dinner and come back here. She couldn't help
falling in love with the place and the idea of
He tried the keys in the door before leaving. Then
he turned and looked into the empty room again with
an unsettled feeling, as though he was leaving
something or someone behind. There was a strong
presence of mortality in the room, and he almost
felt compelled to say goodbye. "I'm sure," he
thought, "it won't be like this after we furnish
it. It's because of the emptiness." Now he wished
he asked Javits where Lennie did it and how --
maybe there was a question of why, too. But maybe
it was best not to know why.
Barbara, a Pennsylvania girl, had lived in New York
a year. Life on the East Side was exciting in the
beginning, but her relationship with Stephen
changed all that. The idea of living together in
Lincoln Square was irresistible and she fell in
love with the view; she even liked the doorman. She
never liked the doorman in her apartment on the
West Side. She could feel his eyes following her as
she walked through the lobby. While her enthusiasm
was at its peak, Stephen mentioned Lennie Baker.
It was as though someone had turned a switch. "You
mean he killed himself? Right here? Really Stephen
-- you don't expect me ..."
"It's nothing, really Barbara. It doesn't make any
difference." He put his arm around her and walked
her to the window again so she could look at the
corner of Central Park. "Every apartment has a
secret or two, it's nothing ... really."
"I don't know, Stephen ... it's kinky, you know?"
"They repainted," he reminded her.
"They probably had to. Oh, Stephen, please don't
tell me any more."
But in the end, the view, the apartment and even
the prospect of living with Stephen won out.
Both of them made plans, much the way newlyweds do.
They enjoyed that. My sofa. Your lounge
chair. My silverware. Both our dishes.
Stephen held the bottle up to the light. "Look how
clear it is. It's almost like water isn't it?"
"Maybe it is."
"Oh no it isn't," he bristled, then he turned the
bottle over and read the back label. "From the
vineyards of Maurice Plaisir, Montrechat." He
opened the door of the refrigerator and laid the
bottle down reverently. "$28.50 Barbara. It should
make the chicken go down very easily."
Barbara riffled through the mail on the small end
table. "What chicken?" she asked. Then before he
could answer she said, "Damn! The minute you move
in you're on everyone's list. There's even fourth
class mail for Lennie Baker." She shivered a bit
and dropped the mail into a wastebasket under the
table. "It looks like we're eating in tonight -- I
mean, with the wine and all."
"I thought it might be nice. We hardly ever eat
here -- don't you get tired of eating out?"
They stood close together under the low arch that
separated the foyer from the living room. Barbara
shivered as Stephen's arm slipped around her waist.
They looked into each other's eyes for a brief
second, then broke apart -- Barbara turned her
back, and said in a small voice, "It isn't as good
as we thought it would be, is it Steve?"
"It's very good. I'm sure it's as good as it gets
-- it's just that there's something ..."
"What did you get besides the wine, Stephen?"
Stephen roused himself and walked quickly into the
tiny kitchen ... "Oh, I got a roasted chicken, some
asparagus and a container of homemade sorbet." He
rattled around in the packages. "Glad you reminded
me. I forgot to put the sorbet in the freezer."
Barbara followed him to the kitchen and stood in
the doorway. "Just the two of us, right?"
"Yes. Just the two of us. Why?"
"Why did we have to rent this place, Stephen? Of
all the apartments in the City of New York -- why
Stephen slid the freezer door shut and sighed.
"Come on Barbara, you know why." He stepped on the
flip-open garbage can harder than he should and it
"He'll be eating with us, won't he ... I swear
Stephen sometimes I feel he's sleeping with us too.
I want him out of here Stephen -- can't you get him
out of here?" She began to sob convulsively.
Stephen hurried over to her and rocked her like a
child. They looked at each other helplessly, and
the uncertainty that only needled them in the
beginning was at last full blown. The ghost of
Lennie Baker was a physical presence, stronger than
both of them. The doorbell rang ...
"I'll get it Barbara -- be right back."
It was an overweight man of middle age. He was
coatless, wore suspenders and strangest of all,
wore pink bunny slippers. "Hi," he said
apologetically, "I'm Shawn from down the hall, do
you know anything about canaries?"
Stephen stared at him blankly and Shawn smiled
understandingly. He turned and pointed down the
hall. "The end apartment." He said. He extended a
long delicate finger. "Shawn Taylor ... Desmond and
I have this canary ... " He ran his fingers through
his hair as though to straighten it. "I must look a
mess, musn't I? But you see I'm at my wits end.
Desmond will be home any minute and if he sees I've
done nothing about the canary he'll be furious."
Barbara came to his rescue ... "Oh, Mr. Taylor."
She stepped between them and turned to Stephen.
"Stephen, you haven't met Mr. Taylor yet, have
you?" Without waiting for him to answer she swung
the door wide and Shawn Taylor walked in.
Taylor made a pirouette in the middle of the living
room. "Oh, I love what you've done with this place
-- did you have a decorator dear?"
Barbara, flushed with pleasure, said, "You like it
then? No, I did it myself ..." she turned
reluctantly to Stephen. "With a little help from
Stephen," she added.
"Oh, I should explain I guess. I'm thinking of how
it looked just after Lennie ..." He stopped and
looked nervously at Barbara and Stephen. "You DO
know about dear Lennie, don't you?"
"Yes," Stephen said bluntly.
"So sad," Shawn sighed. "A slave to love I'd say.
What some people will do for love." He lowered his
voice an octave. "You know how he did it, don't
Stephen shook his head and Barbara looked away.
"You should know -- really you should. It helps to
"Understand? Understand what?" Stephen asked.
Shawn glanced momentarily at his watch. "I should
really be getting back --Desmond will be home any
minute." As though making up his mind to stay a
moment longer, he sat down. "Desmond's reading his
poetry at B&N down in the
village. I suppose he'll be late." He giggled and
added, "He'll be so full of himself when he gets
home. Riding on a crest of adulation, you know how
Stephen and Barbara sat on the sofa across from
him. "What is it we should understand, Mr.
"Please, please, for Heaven's sake -- call me
Shawn. I haven't been called Taylor since law
school. ...I'm waffling I guess, trying to find a
way to tell you about dear Lennie."
"Would you like a drink, Shawn?" Barbara asked.
"Oh no. No, I never drink unless Desmond's with me.
Lennie drowned himself ... in your bathtub by the
way. I mean, isn't that the most bizarre way to go?
How do you drown yourself? How do you hold your
head underwater? ... I'd bob up like a cork." He
looked at Stephen and Barbara with a half smile,
then grew serious again. "It was a girl, a very
special girl. To him anyway. She called herself
Emerald, Emerald LaMarr. She had a part in the
Broadway revival of 'The Pajama Game.'"
"Isn't that sad," Barbara said.
"A man eater. An eight cylinder b***h," he added.
Stephen couldn't resist a grin. He was beginning to
like Shawn, he might have been off the wall but
there was something that rang true with the man.
"First she made a slave of him, then she turned him
into a fool. Some women like to do that you know."
Shawn looked down at the floor and quietly said,
"My mother was like that." He paused and looked at
Barbara. "Where was I? Oh yes -- Emerald. She would
have Johns up here in the afternoon, producers,
publicity people. Then, at night, she and Lennie
would party. I can only imagine what went on in
poor Lennie's head ... he was whipped -- truly
whipped. Then, finally, when the show folded,
Emerald went off to Tinsel Town with the producer.
You can't imagine how Lennie carried on ... it
wouldn't surprise me if ..."
"If what?" Stephen asked.
"Well, what I mean is ... that kind of passion can
go on and on. I mean even after death."
Stephen and Barbara moved a little closer on the
sofa. "You don't believe ....?" Barbara asked.
"I'll tell you a little story," Shawn began. "Do
you know who had our apartment before Desmond and I
moved in?" They shook their heads. "His name was
Roland Petit. He was head chef at Marquisette.
Desmond and I used to eat there a lot -- finest
French chef in New York. Well, don't go there now,
he's dead. Died of food poisoning by the way --
poetic isn't it? Anyway we're living in Roland's
old apartment, right here in Lincoln Square."
hadn't explained the connection, Shawn stood up and
pointed to the door. "Right down the hall --
he died by his own hand too -- in a way. Died from
his own cooking anyway. The minute we heard the
news, Desmond and I got the rental agent out of bed
and signed up."
Shawn stood up and looked at his watch. "The thing
is ... we couldn't get rid of him. We were
condemned to share the apartment with the dead chef
of the Marquisette."
"We would come home late," Shawn said, "and catch
the aroma of cooking. We would find leftovers
in the refrigerator we hadn't put there, or things
would be put back in places we didn't leave them
in." He looked at Stephen and Barbara and shook his
head slowly. "The presence of Roland Petit was as
constant and persistent as the presence of Lennie
Baker must be to you."
"Passionate people." Shawn remarked ruefully, "take
forever to die." He related the case of Lisa
Shottenheimer, the piano tuner, who lived in the
apartment facing the court. "For 15 years she tuned
all 28 pianos in Lincoln Center -- a momentary
lapse of attention," Shawn called it. "She stepped
in front of the downtown bus on Amsterdam Avenue."
He made a thumbs down signal. "For years you could
hear a piano in that apartment even though it was
removed before the new tenants moved in." He looked
at his watch again. "I have to go. There's so much
to do. Desmond must be wondering where I am -- then
there's the damn canary. God knows what we'll do
with it ... life gets more complicated every day. I
just thought I'd tell you. We all have our problems
you see. We live with our ghosts here." He smiled
sympathetically and moved towards the door. Stephen
stood up and opened it for him.
"Goodnight Mr. Whitman ... you're a lovely couple,
by the way," he added wistfully. "You'll be fine
here. Just leave a little room for Lennie, he won't
stay forever." Just outside the door, he turned,
shrugged his shoulders and said, ".... life is so
short, isn't it? Love should be more important than
"It's been nice meeting you," Stephen said. "We'll
set a place for Lennie." He turned to Barbara --
she was by the window, staring out at the park. It
was suddenly quiet in the apartment, just the hum
of traffic in the street below. Barbara placed the
palm of her hand on the window and felt the
coolness outside. She shivered involuntarily and
turned to Stephen.
"I'm not sure I can handle it, Stephen. Now that I
know more about him."
"Lennie, you mean?"
She folded her arms across her chest and shuddered.
"Every time I use that bathroom I'll ..."
Stephen crossed the room hurriedly and tried to put
his arms around her, but she shook him off and
raised her eyes to the ceiling. "How did we ever
get ourselves in this mess, Stephen?"
"Look Barbara, it hasn't stopped those two down the
hall, and the couple that moved in after the piano
"She only plays when she's alone."
"Don't be funny."
"Come on, I'll warm up the chicken. You can do the
asparagus -- I don't know how to handle asparagus
-- then I'll open the wine and we'll make a toast
"I'm not eating here." She walked to the hall
closet and got her coat. She held it out to
Stephen, and with a sigh of resignation he held it
for her. "Damn!" She stamped her foot. "I have to
go to the bathroom before we leave!"
"Want me to come with you?"
"No! I'll shut my eyes ... Stephen, how could he do
such a thing?"
Stephen didn't have a ready answer. Lennie Baker's
suicide was something he couldn't quite accept
either. Shawn Taylor seemed to understand the power
of obsession, maybe it was easier for a gay man to
appreciate, but Stephen could never imagine
himself doing such a thing. Then, he thought a bit
more about it ... "If Barbara walked out on me --
left me alone in this place, with nothing but the
emptiness and the little light oval patch on the
living room wall ..." Well, he wasn't quite so sure
of himself after all.
"Why aren't you ready yet? Get your coat on, we're
going out." She seemed anxious to leave.
Stephen was not, he would rather stay and talk this
out. Reluctantly he walked to the closet and
got his coat. Then he remembered.
"I have to put the chicken away ... won't be a
minute." He went to the kitchen, wrapped the
chicken in foil and put it in the refrigerator.
"Right with you, Barbara." He rinsed his hands and
dried them. Barbara was standing at the open door
staring into the hallway. They closed the door
softly and both of them had the fidgety feeling
they were leaving something or someone behind.
It was quiet after they left and the setting sun
across the Hudson burned weakly through the low
hanging smog. It extended narrow fingers of golden
light diagonally across the living room. Even
though Stephen and Barbara were no longer there,
the presence of mortality was strong and anyone
being in that room would swear they were not alone.
Although the presence was invisible it changed the
appearance of the household items it obscured. If
you were looking at a picture on the wall and it
passed through your line of sight, the picture
would appear slightly distorted as though seen
through water. You might brush your eyes, thinking
your sight had grown momentarily blurry, when
things cleared up again you would think no more
It was a voiceless and weightless ghost. It drifted
through the apartment aimlessly, much like a soap
bubble or a puff of smoke, seemingly without
purpose or direction, and although it may well have
been the spirit of Lennie Baker, there was no way
of telling. The last thought on Lennie's mind when
his breathing stopped and his lungs filled with
water, was the heartless Emerald Lamarr. Had he
been able to speak, he would have called her name.
It was this unuttered cry that wandered about the
empty apartment at Lincoln House.
But there were two strangers here now, and they
brought a vital change with them -- new
voices and new vibrations. They could not hear the
pitiful plea of Lennie Baker, all they could sense
was an uneasiness in the air. His ghost could not
intrude in the life of these two people. They would
have ghosts of their own to haunt them while they
lived and mourn them when they were gone.
It took a final turn around the apartment. The
kitchen in which Lennie took so many meals alone,
the living room where Emerald entertained her
afternoon Johns before they made their slow and
steady way to the bedroom. Yes the bedroom! ... the
nightly fights ... the promises and sullen excuses.
Echoes to reverberate forever -- or stilled by a
Suddenly the ghost was gone. It's lonely vigil at
Lincoln House was over, and it evaporated as gently
and as surely as the final knell of a tolling bell.
The apartment was now as hollow as a void within a
wall of silence. So silent that the jarring noise
of Stephen's key in the lock was like the opening
of a jail cell door.
They had entered this room many times before, and
always there would be the uneasy sensation
that someone, or something, was waiting for them.
Tonight they stopped in their tracks as they closed
"My God!" Barbara whispered, "It's gone!" There was
an absolute emptiness in the room, a coolness as
though someone had opened a window to air it out.
"Let's make sure he doesn't come back," Stephen
They walked to the living room window and looked
down at Lincoln Center. It was nearly dark now and
the floodlights were playing on the fountains and
people were gathering for the opera.
"Big crowd," Barbara said, "I think it's The
Marriage of Figaro."
"That reminds me..." said Stephen.
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