After Mid-Winter 1970-71
Takoma Park, Maryland
Dion’s place, overlooking the forest of Sligo Creek, was Libby’s winter home.
Most days, he gave her the serpent’s bite that sent her to the underworld. Sometimes she awoke from her dreaming to the sound of him begging her to come up into the light.
“Please, baby,” he would whisper, “don’t stay down. I need you to come back to me.” It was the only time he showed emotion, and he really did seem torn up.
When she was awake she would put on the radio. Elton John’s “Your Song” was in heavy rotation. “You want a big house?” Dion would ask. She would only smile, and he would say, “This is our song, baby. This one’s for you.”
Whenever they were going out, a man in a black leather jacket would appear and accompany them. Dion didn’t tell her the man’s name or why he was there, and Libby didn’t ask; he was just “that guy.” Before Dion and Libby went out the door, That Guy would precede them, look around, and then nod to Dion. That Guy drove the car, and when they arrived somewhere he would get out first. One time, Libby started to get out of the car before That Guy gave the nod, and Dion growled, “You stay put till I tell you to move.” After that she stayed, and didn’t ask why.
Then one day she turned bright yellow, so he took her to the hospital.
Dion and That Guy came to visit her every day. Dion would help her out of her bed, and they’d all go into her bathroom to smoke a joint. Within a week she felt better, and Dion decided she was well enough. He asked That Guy to wait outside the room.
“I’m gonna take you outta here, baby,” he said. “I want you to come to Florida with me. We’ll get married, and we’ll get custody of my kids.” He smiled, sure that she would be pleased. “You wanna?” he asked as an afterthought.
No, I don’t want to go to Florida and take care of your kids is what she should have said. Or a simple, honest I don’t want to marry you or anybody would have done.
What she did say was “yes.”
* * *
It was midday, mid-January by the time they headed out, their suitcases in the trunk. As usual, That Guy drove and Dion sat in the front seat. Libby was in the back, and rolled down her windows even though it was cold because she felt like she couldn’t breathe.
It started raining so she had to roll up the windows and the air got close with their cigarette smoke. Then the glass steamed up so she couldn’t see out, and stretching out on the back seat felt like being trapped in a coffin.
“I have to stop at Dupont Circle and say goodbye to my friends Ellie and Ron!” she gasped. She hadn’t expected to sound so panicky.
That Guy glanced at her through the rear-view mirror, then looked to Dion for a decision.
Dion didn’t answer right away. Libby expected him to say no. She expected that he would take her to Florida because that’s what he wanted to do.
But then he turned, and looked back at her. “Sure, baby, if that’s what you want.”
That’s when Libby knew that she could not go with him.
* * *
That Guy pulled up to the curb in front of Ellie and Ron’s place. Libby went to open the door, already disregarding Dion’s rule, but he asked her to wait. He asked her politely, so she did. That Guy got out of the car and looked around, then nodded. Dion got out and opened the back door for Libby: That was a first.
“This won’t take long,” she said. She didn’t invite him in, and she pretended not to see that he noticed the slight.
* * *
Ellie and Ron’s apartment was cozy: Christmas lights still up, two mattresses covered in pillows and Indian prints, Ron’s guitar leaning against one wall, Ellie’s textbooks stacked on a table in the corner, candles and incense burning, a fancy hookah on a low table, and prisms in the window that caught the light and threw back rainbows.
“Libby!” Ellie hugged her. “Where in hell have you been?”
“Hey,” Ron said to her from across the room, then turned to look out the window again. “Who’s the gangster?”
“That’s Dion, and he’s not a gangster,” Libby responded defensively, suddenly wondering if Dion was a gangster.
“Solid,” said Ron. “Then why does Dion have a bodyguard?”
“That Guy is not a bodyguard,” Libby scoffed, suddenly wondering if That Guy was a bodyguard. “Anyway,” Libby turned her back on Ron and said to Ellie, “I just came to say goodbye to you guys. I’m moving to Florida with Dion.”
“Why in the world would you do that?!” Ellie demanded, disapproving.
“It’s the sunshine state,” Libby responded lamely. “You know: It’s warm. Green.”
Ellie stared at her for a moment, then said firmly, “You can’t leave here.”
“Well, what would I…”
“Look, I’m sick and I need you to stay here to take care of me,” Ellie offered. “Tell him it won’t be forever. Just till I get well or die. Just for the winter.” When Libby looked doubtful, Ellie practically shouted, “Tell him we’re holding you captive or whatever you want, but you can’t go!”
Libby saw the look Ron gave Ellie, the look that said I cannot believe you just asked your friend to stay with us in this crowded one-room apartment. But she said, “I’ll get my suitcase.”
* * *
The rain had stopped completely, so Dion was leaning against the car door smoking a cigarette.
“I hope you don’t mind but Ellie’s sick and I have to stay here!” Libby announced in a rush as she approached the car. “I’ll come to you in the spring.”
She knew, and he knew, that he would never see her again.
Dion took another drag on his cigarette, slowly, then dropped it and put it out with the sole of his boot. She feared that he would be violent. But he only glanced at her once, a slight flush coming up his neck, and said nothing.
That Guy looked to Dion for guidance. Dion ignored him, opened the trunk, took out her suitcase, and carefully placed it on the sidewalk. Without a goodbye, Dion and That Guy got in the car and drove away. This time Dion did not look back.
“I’m so sorry,” Libby whispered when they were almost out of sight, “but I just couldn’t go.”
Note: Chapter title is from “Your Song” by Elton John
© August 20, 2018 [draft]