Starry starry night
Image: Randy Bolton
Time City - Laura Barrett
If Peggy Lee had taken a right instead of a left from her wretched North Dakota girlhood to Manhattan instead of Hollywood and shared a two-room cold-water flat on a ragged street on the lower east side with another cigarette girl and tucked under her iron bed in an old blanket this African harp called a kalimba she won from a guitar player named Stan in a poker game. She had never played poker before that sharp barb-winded February night and never won anything she could remember except third place in a 4H singing contest, but she had been kissed -- lots of times -- so she wasn't startled or even especially surprised when Stan tried to fold her in his arms (whether for comfort or from cold she couldn't tell) on the fire escape at two in the morning after he'd lost the game and swallowed three-quarters of a bottle of rum. That next summer, the owner of a 10-table jazz club let her have the tiny stage every Tuesday and Thursday evening before the sun went down and the real band showed up. And she played her kalimba and sang a sad, arch, amateur soprano, stitching together songs as she went along from scraps of her mother's lullabies and half-remembered high school science texts, songs inspired by all the hopeful, heartless boys she had since met.
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