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The Pianist Who Liked Ayn Rand
A Novella and 13 Stories

The Prize
by Gene H. Bell-Villada

Ever since his parents had stopped talking to each other, he had taken to spending more of his spare time with the radio. The phonograph part of the console took 78 RPM's only, and a lot of their records were cracked, broken, or just gone, so that many of his favorite pieces were now incomplete. The only thing remaining of his Beethoven's First Symphony was sides 1 and 8. This was the worst of all cases, though some others were bad enough. And then the recordings themselves were badly worn from so much use. Most of the albums his mother had bought for him years ago, when he was still in kindergarten. It was right about then that she had commented on how, whenever she'd help tighten his school necktie, or their maid brushed his hair, he'd be humming along with the morning radio concert.

WIPR was its name, abbreviated in turn to WEE-pare by the locals. The government station, it played nine hours of classical music a day, and on LP's too, without interruptions. He always dreaded the return to school at summer's end, wished he could skip class and listen to the daytime programs instead. Piano hour at nine. Concert at midday (with its rousing Schumann Rhenisch theme). Chamber music in the afternoon. Come September, he'd complain, even cry. His mother would wipe the tears with a kleenex, button his shirt and say curtly, "Stop it, Dickie, you've got to go to school. Otherwise the government might come after you." That scared him. Then the maid Catalina would say, in Spanish, "Don't be bad, Ricardito. A smart boy like you can't miss school." But at least he got to hear the concerts in the early morning and the evening, and weekends and vacations he could hear them all. He liked it when the throaty, rich voice of the WIPR announcer would enter over a fading Mozart Jupiter and begin with, "Buenos dias," or would simply say, "WIPR presenta" (finale to Beethoven Fifth emerging in the background) "Concierto de la noche" (trumpets). Often he wondered if the people at the station could see him sitting there, ear next to speaker, listening and sometimes singing.

For more than six years he had been tuning in regularly to WIPR. His homework he also did by the radio, with Haydn, Mozart, or Brahms providing company during his penmanship or multiplication exercises. The music did no harm and may have helped, since his grades stayed in the 90s, even 100 for Conduct one month. Among the few things he'd heard Dad say to Mom this last year was, "I wish he'd do something bad for a change. Doesn't he have friends who cut up some?"

Back at school he'd mentioned the radio concerts to someone sometime, quickly dropping the subject when it drew an empty stare. "What's that?" asked bespectacled Rafael, another kid who got 90s and whom classmates nicknamed "El Profe." Everybody listened to WIPR at night, or so he had thought, but greater still was his surprise when Sister Regina didn't know about Concierto de la Noche. She was from New York. Didn't people from New York listen to classical music? After all, most of the orchestras on his records and on WIPR were from the States. Mom and Dad always reminded him he was a citizen of the States, the greatest country in the world. He'd been born in Rio Piedras and had never actually seen the States, but he'd heard its orchestras, New York, Cleveland, Chicago ... He imagined everybody in those cities flocking to hear the Symphony Orchestra. I wish there were a great big orchestra just like those right here in San Juan, he fancied now and again.

He couldn't read music, but at least he could follow the descriptive details in Sigmund Spaeth's Great Concertos and Great Symphonies. He could still recall the excitement he'd felt a couple of years back, when he'd found those two books in his Christmas stocking. He used them just about every day, and since then the glossy front cover had fallen off one, was hanging by a few threads on the other. So many times had he listened to those symphonies and concertos plus countless sonatas, overtures, and suites, that his memory itself was like a record album, he knew them all by heart now. Odd, it was easier to recite a whole symphonic movement than to remember a few lines from his English grammar or his Spaeth books. Why was that? He liked going through those pieces in his mind, singing them under his breath. When it wasn't too noisy around his usual seat in the front of the bus, he'd spend the ride to school silently humming the Pastorale or the Unfinished. Often he hoped there'd be a flat tire, because he knew they'd be delayed and then he could run an entire symphony through his head. Sometimes it was with a start that he'd hear Alejo the bus driver say in Spanish, "O-kay, here we are," and then he'd see 800 other people on the Colegio grounds, in their maroon or khaki uniforms, standing around and waiting boisterously for the first morning bell.

Dad was coming home later and later in the evenings. The maid also cooked late, but oftentimes it was just Mom and himself eating alone together. Afterwards, Dad would arrive and gulp down his dinner at the big metal desk in the study. Sitting by the phonograph he could see the back side of Dad's graying blond head, could hear the gritty voice speaking into the telephone tube, saying well really, Hudson deserved to fold, so does Packard that's all there is to it, silence, so expand now, push those automatics, well, come on, foreign cars don't rate, they're just a damned fad, Americans make the best cars in the world, silence, we're going to get rid of Mike soon, that old fathead, you hear me? Dickie was singing with the nighttime concert, it was Cesar Franck, the Symphony in D minor, luscious sounds there, especially that second theme:

"Come on, Dickie, be quiet, I'm trying to work." The voice was loud though Dad didn't turn around to look at him. Mom said nothing as she sipped her drink on the sofa, reading Newsweek. During breakfast from time to time one or the other might say, "Dickie, stop, it's not nice to sing at the table." So he'd stop but still hear the sounds in his head, filling the silence. The music seemed to have a taste in his mouth, he thought.

It was summer now, and he listened to WIPR all day. Dad went out to work on Saturdays and sometimes even on Sundays. Mom was at one of the beach clubs, for bridge. Except when she was cleaning, Catalina stayed mostly at the opposite end of the apartment, in the kitchen or her little bedroom. Standing outside on the balcony he liked gazing down and watching cars go by. Some he heard honk; a few he recognized. The radio he kept at a high volume, drowning out much of the noise, though his parents wouldn't have allowed it if they were at home. The salty-smelling breeze felt nice in his face. Up above, a small airplane was skywriting "Pepsi" for a third time. Toward the right he could see part of the University grounds, with its walkways crisscrossing over carpet-like lawns, snail-sized moms idling their strollers to and fro, the bell tower rising above the trees. He missed those times -- was it before he'd started school? -- when Mom and Dad and he used to go for late walks on the campus and look at its fountains, or sit on the grass where he'd hear the bells play classical music. He missed those days, but since then he'd heard the originals of those pieces, and the bell tower still played them almost daily, so he'd sing along. At midday or at six they'd play Bach, Mozart, or Offenbach, and he might lower the radio and hum with the bells instead.

Every Friday since Easter WIPR had been holding musical identification contests. For fifteen minutes they would play a mystery piece or portion thereof and wait for a lucky listener to phone in the name of the composer and the title, including key and opus number when applicable. The first caller who had all the facts right received a free gift of a classical album. Dickie recognized many of the pieces. He had heard them broadcast on WIPR sometime or other, and one he'd actually owned before it fell and shattered. On occasions he had almost called in, but the operator's voice had frightened him off. "?Numero?" he would hear and then quickly hang up. Last week their mystery piece had been Mendelssohn's Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage overture; he got up his courage, gave the number to the operator, heard a buzzing sound, and again hung up as soon as he recognized, right there over his parents' telephone, the WIPR announcer's voice.

The mystery piece this time was a Beethoven Contra Danse. He knew it from one of the Little Golden Records he used to like putting on the phonograph, when he was in first grade; later it had cropped up as a filler in an album. Nobody seemed to have recognized the piece so far. He got up, walked over to the upright phone and unhooked the receiver. Hand and voice trembling slightly, he spoke into the tube and did as he had done last week, but this time stayed on when he heard the familiar voice from Concierto de la Tarde.

"Halo, la WIPR."

"That piece you're playing," Dickie said, in Spanish.

"Yes, yes, what's it called?"

"Beethoven. The first Contra Danse. In D major. No opus."

"Very good, sir. You've just won a brand-new classical record from WIPR." The man used the formal Usted with him. "We've had nineteen calls already. They all missed. Could you give me your name, address, and telephone number, please?"

"Dickie Dickers ... I mean, Richard Dickerson. He paused. Junior," he added in a breathy voice. "1001 Avenida Munoz Rivera, apartment 501, Rio Piedras. The telephone is ..." he had forgotten, now looked at the label, "976-R."

"Fine, Mr. Dickerson. You can come to our offices anytime before six. Do you know where we are located."

"Yes."

"Well, you should be here for your gift certificate within eight days. By the way is that really your name? You must be North American, no?"

"Yes."

"Ah, but you speak such good Spanish. Well, Mr. Dickerson, congratulations."

"Thank you.

"And thank you for calling. Adios." He hung up.

"Adios."

Dickie felt his heart beating fast. He wished Mom and Dad were there so he could tell them. He was even more excited when he heard the announcer's voice saying, "We have a winner. His name is Richard Dickerson, Junior, of Rio Piedras."

He ran down the hall to the kitchen, almost slipping on his socks.

Catalina.

"Tell me, Dickie." She was stirring something in a large pot. He couldn't see what it was.

"I just won a prize."

"Ah, yes? What did you win?"

"Records. I identified a mystery piece on WIPR."

"Ah, how nice. You're so smart, Ricardito." With her free hand she patted him on the head.

Every day Dickie used to see the WIPR offices from the school bus. He liked the building's tall, squarish letters.

"Catalina, tell me how can I get to WIPR? You know, the radio station in Santurce."

"Just take the Parada 20 bus here by the building. It stops right across from them. You used it during the school bus drivers' strike a year ago, remember.

"Ah, yes," he said, then hurried back down the hall to his bedroom and located his shoes. Rather than wait for the elevator he rushed down the five flights of poorly lit stairway. It was hot and sticky out on the street, the smell of diesel fumes stronger than usual. The large, gray, flatnosed Parada 20 bus showed up in less than a minute. Crowded, it was, some jostling. Behind the driver he caught sight of an empty lateral seat and slid himself in, but kept glancing over his shoulder so as not to miss WIPR.

He had to stand up to pull the bell cord (ding, ding). The bus just barely stopped. He crossed the avenue and in the farthest lane was nearly hit by a screeching something -- a taxi, he thought, but wasn't sure. From close up the building actually looked a trifle smaller than it had appeared so many times from the road. EMPUJE, the door said. The lobby was air conditioned, delicious sensation, especially on his face. The girl at the desk had short, straight black hair, bright red lipstick, and a flowery blouse. She raised her dark eyes briefly as he walked towards her. Pocket mirror in hand, she was fixing her make-up with a kleenex. He took a deep breath.

She clicked shut the mirror and asked him, business-like, "Tell me, little boy, what do you want?"

"Uh, I just won that ... that prize on Concierto de la Tarde."

"Aha. And?"

"...Who do I talk with?"

"Well, actually, I don't know, I started working here just this week. But if you go through that door they'll tell you what you must do."

It was less modern inside than in the lobby. A narrow wood-panelled stairway was the first thing he saw; a lady maybe his mother's age, standing in a little office at the right, was the second.

"Tell me, little boy."

"I'm Dickie ... I mean Richard Dickerson. I just won that prize."

The lady shifted to almost-accentless English. "Oh, you're Dickie Dickerson. You know, I think I met your Mom once. Well, look, go up the stairs to the second floor and turn right. Efrain the announcer's there. He'll give you your Record Certificate."

Dickie climbed the stairs slowly, in twos. Coming down there was a frowning, balding, gray-fringed man with a loose-leaf notebook and a Cuban guayabera. One of the announcers? Then Dickie caught sound of the voice he'd just heard on the telephone and saw a little room encased in wood and glass. The door was open just a crack. The fellow in the pink shirt who faced the microphone had a roundish head of thick wavy black hair and a prickly, incipient beard. Dickie opened the door further, noticed the LP record sleeves stacked up on either side of the announcer's hefty, curly-haired arms, and heard him saying, "the Symphony Orchestra of the NBC, under the baton of Arturo Toscanini."

The announcer turned toward Dickie, who was about to identify himself, but the man's left hand suddenly rose up with the "Wait!" signal even as his lips were puckering up. It worked -- mouth half-open, Dickie froze. The announcer smiled slightly, then spoke into the microphone. "And now, ladies and gentlemen, we will listen to the Symphony Number 3 in C minor by Camille Saint-Saens, interpreted by ..." The station played that piece a lot, sometimes twice a month, Dickie had noticed.

"Well, tell me what can I do for you, kid?"

"My name is Richard Dickerson. I just won that prize."

The announcer looked at him, paused briefly, and said, "Ah, yes, one minute." The deep voice was unmistakable. He puffed at a cigar that appeared out of nowhere, got up, seemed to bounce around, reached leftwards into an open file, and pulled out a piece of hard paper that looked like a small diploma.

"Yes," he said, and sat back down. The Symphony's agitated first theme was just beginning. The announcer sang vigorously and moved his head in rhythm to Saint-Saens' rapid-fire melody while printing something on the pretty card. He nodded once, rolled the chair to the right in Dickie's general direction, opened up a green notebook with dark red corners and filled in a couple of its narrow little lines, still singing.

He stood up, took another cigar puff and said, "Look, Richard." He shifted to the informal tu now, "this is your Gift Certificate. Take it over to Discolandia a few doors down. They've got your album ready. Okay?"

"Yes."

"Well, congratulations for winning, and have fun with your prize, okay?" After giving Dickie a pat on the shoulder, he sat down again and swivelled toward the microphone.

Dickie looked at the paper, said, "Thank you," turned around, and did another about-face.

The announcer looked up from his notes. "Yes, what's happening?"

"How did you say I get to Discolandia?"

"Turn left when you come out of the station. Go toward San Juan just about half a block. It's there." Brief pause. "All right? Well, have fun. Here, I'll open the door for you."

Dickie went quietly down the stairs, glanced at the lady in the office from the corner of his eye. "'Bye, 'bye, Dickie," he heard her say. "'Bye," he said without looking at her. Outside, in the hall, a blond man in a white shirt and black tie finished off his coffee while listening to the smiling receptionist say something funny. The blond man chuckled, placed the cup onto the saucer held in his other hand. "Adios," the girl said as Dickie opened the street door. He wasn't sure if she meant it for him.

Discolandia was the biggest record shop he had ever seen, but then he hadn't been to any record shops recently. The mirrors and the luz fria (he couldn't remember the long English word for the tube-shaped bulbs just now) made the place look even bigger. So many recordings, all the way up to the ceiling, he wished he could hear every single one. The brassy tune being played was familiar, a fast mambo he had heard resounding every night for at least a year from the bar next door. Sometimes Catalina hummed it. Sister Regina once said that mambo is sinful, he remembered.

One of the clerks was tapping on the cash register and shaking his hips to the beat. He stopped when he saw Dickie.

"Yes, young man?"

Dickie held out the certificate to him.

"Ah, yes." He stroked his moustache. "Ramon, here, another one for the people from WIPR. Could you bring it to me, please?"

Ramon, a lanky mulatto in a pink shirt, clicked his fingers, went into a back room, rolled a ladder and clambered up, and returned with a shiny new record jacket, all within a few seconds. "Another one," he said, handing it to the first clerk and moving on.

"Well, young man, here you are."

Dickie held it in his hand, read and examined it.

"Look, sir."

"Yes, tell me."

"This is an LP, no?"

"Yes, precisely."

"Do you have it in 78s? My record player only takes 78s." The clerk let out a nervous titter. "Well, you see, uh ... I don't know what to say to you but, well ... Nobody makes classical 78s anymore. That stuff's no good, really. Look, even that mambo by Perez Prado is on a 45."

He pointed. Dickie saw the toy-sized disc spinning around a drum-like spindle.

"You don't have a 78 I could take instead?"

"Not in classical, sorry. But look, think about it, someday you'll have an LP phonograph." Dickie recalled Dad saying those same words a couple of summers ago. "You'll be able to play it then. Come, give that to me and I'll put it in a bag for you."

A pink-skinned lady in a leopard blouse entered, leading a small Pekingese. "Good afternoon," she said with a smile.

The clerk handed Dickie the bag and addressed the lady. "Ah, yes, good afternoon, Senora Castillo. Listen, the Kostelanetz album finally arrived today. Would you like to try it out?"

The woman's voice receded as Dickie walked out onto the street again. It was still hot, and he had liked the feel of air conditioning, both at WIPR and at Discolandia. Until now the only air conditioned places he had been to were the theaters, like the one in Rio Piedras five blocks from the apartment, where he spent many a Saturday afternoon watching American movies. He stopped a minute, realizing he needed to ask directions for the return bus stop. He peeked into the bag. Kostelanetz conducting. Grand Canyon Suite. He wished it were some other piece. He already owned it, or actually three-fourths of it, since sides 4 and 5, with "On the Trail," had cracked some years ago. It had been a present from his father, in first grade, he remembered, and he liked the piece back then, still did, though less so now, less than Tchaikovsky, and far less than Beethoven or Brahms.


Chapter Two


Our Own Miss Puerto Rico

All week long people at the office had been saying, "I wonder who'll be crowned Miss Puerto Rico!" Then they'd chuckle and continue with their work. Meanwhile Dickie, clipboard in hand, would quietly get on with inventory, climbing the long ladder and registering the number of "A" cups and "B" cups currently in stock. Sometimes he'd reach for a rag in order to wipe off the dust that had accumulated over the stacks of pink boxes. One pile of D-40s had sat around for so long you could barely read the "Elegant Form" script sweeping neatly across the uppermost boxtop.

"Dickie, please could you get me some coffee?" shouted Clarisa, the secretary. He rushed down the ladder's steps and over to the coffee room next door.

Little did he know it, but his uncle Fred had instructed them to treat Dickie as if he were just another employee. Occasionally, though, the assistant Paquin would screw up his ruddy face, scratch his late-afternoon stubble, and whisper, "Say, Ricardito, could your father sell me a brand-new Chevy at a discount?" And they'd both giggle.

Dickie trod carefully through the door, Clarisa's white cup a-juggling precariously in its white saucer, and finally reached her typing desk. "Ah, there you are," she said, brushing her blond curls from her eyes. "Thanks, Dickie, you're a good boy." Her long hands showed rosy fingernails. She took a sip directly.

"Say, Dickie," said Gladys' grainier voice behind him, "that looks good. Could you get me one too?" As he sauntered alongside the stacked-up boxes he heard her saying, "It's tomorrow, no? And who's going to win?"

"Who knows? We'll see," Clarisa's distant voice came back.

Three-oh-five, said the table clock in the coffee room. As he entered he recognized one of the sewing-machine girls from the factory, pouring herself some Sanka.

"Hi," she nodded at him, her thin, red lips smiling slightly. He liked the smell of her facial powder. She was his height and maybe three years older.

"Hi," was his soft, almost inaudible reply. She turned around silently. The constant factory hum drowned out the sound of her flowery pink flats shuffling across the room toward the three gray stairs.

As Dickie poured the coffee Paquin ambled in, pulling up and tightening his trousers. "Hola, Ricardito," he said, giving him a soft slap on the shoulder.

"Hola."

"When is Mister Brown coming back from Havana?"

"Don't know. Mom talked with him last night."

"Well, the new factory must be taking up lots of time."

Dickie remembered the dinner with Uncle Fred, when the only thing he and Dad had talked about was the new plant being built in Cuba. Mom and Uncle Fred looked so much alike, yet she was so quiet, he thought.

He made his way to Gladys' desk and saw Gabriel and Julian standing about. Julian had a big cigar between his front teeth; Gabriel was unclipping his bow tie. The two usually came by at about this time.

"Thanks, Dickie," said Gladys, in English, pushing back a stray tuft of white hair. She switched to Spanish. "Do you guys want coffee?"

"No, no," said Gabriel, "not after walking around in all this heat." He dropped into a stray chair.

"How'd it go today?" Clarisa asked.

Gabriel shrugged his shoulders; Julian's deep voice said, "Pretty good. Gonzalez Padin took a few big orders. Everybody there wanted to know if I'd heard anything about ... you know ... that."

"Oh, well, maybe ...," Gladys reflected.

Clarisa lit a cigarette. "And in the papers? Nothing?"

Gabriel was rolling up his sleeves. "No. And why, really? It was that Eisenhower guy on the front page this afternoon."

Taking a big smoky puff, Julian shook his head. "Those people up there might actually vote for him again. All he does is play golf. What's with these crazy gringos? Crazy, they all are."

The two secretaries looked over at Dickie leaning gently on the nearby racks, and then giggled. "Careful," a smiling Clarisa said, pointing a finger at Julian.

And Julian spun around on his heels to catch Dickie's eye. "Hey, Dickie, nothing against gringos, you understand. I don't even think of you as one, your Spanish is so good."

Dickie blushed, looked at the floor. Paquin gave him a soft punch on the ear, saying with a smile, "He's a good gringo, this Dickie."

The two salesmen picked up their briefcases again, swinging them energetically. Gabriel got up from the folding chair and said, "Well, we'll see what happens."

"Tomorrow!" more than one voice said.

Everybody has a life. The thought often runs through Dickie's mind as he rides the crowded bus from work. The fellow in blue overalls sitting at his side; the blonde lady in high heels facing him from across the aisle there, clutching at her New York Department Store bag; the graying man in a guayabera shirt, standing, briefcase in one hand and the ceiling bar in another. All of them have lives that go on after they've exited the bus and are headed home. And yet he saw them just this once and no more as they each continued having lives. He had ridden as far as Rio Piedras and now marvelled at the thought that, having made their way through the doors off in Santurce or Hato Rey, they still lived on somewhere in those places. What were they doing now? he wondered.

Dad was down in Mayaguez again on business, Mom said. She hoped he wouldn't be home too late, she said. Dickie and Mom ate quietly. Catalina had the week off. Beethoven's Second Symphony was listed in El Diario for that night's WIPR evening concert, followed by the Pastorale. He always loved that Sixth, loved the many repetitions, could hum along with its first movement's every note. The melodies went on ringing in his mind later as he tucked into bed. He had no idea when it was that he heard the front door's unlocking and shutting, heard Dad's familiar footsteps resounding in the dark stillness.

Mom informed him over breakfast that his dad was asleep, so he'd hear about Mayaguez at suppertime. Now, though, he had to get off to work as he heard his mother's reminder, "Don't forget your lunch box, Dickie."

At first the bus seemed uncrowded but there were no empty seats. He was the only standing passenger, up in front. Sitting together towards the rear he spotted two boys from Colegio Espiritu Santo. They smiled as they conversed. One of them fascinated Dickie with his dark, angular eyebrows and constant frown. Dickie always felt surprised when he'd see Colegio kids elsewhere, and yet they too must have a life, just as everyone else does. They even get together when they're on vacation, something he never did. But then he was American, not Puerto Rican.

The five-block walk from Plaza Colon down to the office never ceased to thrill him, so exciting it was to be out there with all those thousands, each of them headed somewhere in the mornings, and he too was one of those people and moreover was receiving $5 every Friday. Just another reason why he liked working at the office.

Clarisa barely nodded at him from her desk as she paid heed to Gladys exclaiming, "So it happened!" and she in turn replied, "Looks as if it did!" and both of them giggled.

"When is it they're getting married?" Gladys asked.

"October, I think."

Gladys bit a lower lip, then said in English, in a deeper voice, "They're gonna be havin' a hot time!"

Now they both guffawed. Dickie joined in too.

"Well, look," Clarisa remarked, "little Dickie laughs and he doesn't even know about those things!"

"Yes, I do know!" Dickie insisted.

The day's heat and humidity were unbearable. Following delivery of that afternoon's messages he went for a large root beer at the Royal Palm, where there was air-conditioning and it was so cool and relaxing. A discarded El Imparcial on a nearby stool and its headline, "LUCY DEL VALLE CHOSEN MISS PUERTO RICO," caught his eye. The woman in the photograph had a wide, laughing smile, short, dark hair coming down in a double twist framing both sides of her forehead, and heavy lipstick. Dickie thought the double twirl made her look a little bit scary. The nuns at the Colegio often warned that the Devil can look just like anybody else, can be nice and offer you candy, can be good-looking too. They often criticized Puerto Rican girls for wearing "a pound of make-up," in their phrase. "This Lucy del Valle," Dickie thought, "looks like a pretty Devil, with all her make-up," something he might say at the office.

Walking down the hall he heard fast, excited chatter, soon making out Gabriel's and Julian's voices. As he reached the left turn and approached the wide door he saw Clarisa and Julian hugging each other, though they weren't even married. Paquin and Julian now shook hands, then also hugged. Puerto Ricans do a lot of hugging, Dickie reflected. His parents and relatives almost never did.

"So," said Gladys, "you must feel proud." She gave Julian a little pat on the shoulder.

His entire face seemed to smile. "Well, I'm proud of Lucy. It's her prize, after all." He puffed on his cigar.

"Next October you're goin' to be Mister Puerto Rico," she joked, pronouncing the word meester for some reason.

"My God, that's right!" Julian guffawed. "I hadn't thought of it that way."

Gabriel now said to the group, more calmly, "He's got pictures," then turned to him. "You're going to let us see 'em?"

"Let's see, let's see!" said Paquin.

Julian now took out a small yellow envelope from his briefcase and produced from it a pack of black-and-white photographs. Everybody was oohing and aahing as they contemplated Lucy all dressed up for the grand ball at the Escambron, Lucy with her parents over in Arecibo, Lucy in a short-sleeve white dress standing arm-in-arm with Julian, Lucy posing in her dark bathing suit at El Dorado Beach.

"Look at how the bulge shows in this one," Dickie heard Julian saying softly to the men. He looked up and saw all of them grinning.

"Well, Dickie," asked Gladys, "and what do you think of Lucy?"

He flushed, and stammered, "Uh ... mm ... oh she's very pretty."

Everyone in the room laughed while Clarisa, her arms crossed over her chest, remarked, "Dickie, what do you know about that stuff?"

"Hey, look," said Paquin, "Dickie's a real macho, ain't that right?" He gave Dickie a little punch on the shoulder.

As he rode home he remembered little else about the events. But he prayed to and thanked God that he hadn't said those things about Lucy and the Devil and her lipstick. He would have been hated, and he didn't want to be hated. God must've been watching over him, it does happen, he'd read so in The Power of Positive Thinking. He was wondering about the life a Miss Puerto Rico has. Does she wash dishes? Will she take a crowded bus at five? All those people having lives somewhere. There were passengers carrying El Imparcial with Lucy's picture on the front page, and he felt like saying to one of them, any of them, "See her? I know the guy she's going to marry in October." He couldn't wait until he told his mom about what had happened, and about Miss Puerto Rico's future husband, Julian, a Mister Puerto Rico, who worked right at Uncle Fred's office.

* * *
from THE PIANIST WHO LIKED AYN RAND
© 1998, Gene Bell-Villada

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