Nora at Daybreak
Girl works until three a.m., young man goes to work at nine. What time for romance?
W. H. TEMPLE
STEVE NOLAN got his first advertising job after thirteen months of trying. At eleven o’clock that night he teetered on his heels at Times Square and puffed complacently at a twenty-five-cent cigar. “You’re a copywriter, son.” Steve said, half aloud, “and tomorrow you go on a fish diet. But tonight, one small drink to your success.”
Crossing Broadway, he wandered east and turned down steps before a sign, “Club Lorain.” It was sparsely occupied and dingy in red velvet draperies. Steve ordered, then grinned at the bartender. “Ever know any big shot advertising men?” he began.
"Thirty-five cents,” said the liartender, choosing his words carefully.
Steve handed him a bill. "A year ago the last agency in the directory told me to work in a department store for experience. I sold everything from grass seed to abdominal supporta. And then this morning I go back to the agency. Mr. Zimmerley, I say—”
“An’ sixty-five is one," said the bartender.
Steve sighed, then swung toward the bandstand at sound of a voice. The song was “Stardust,” but Steve neither knew nor cared.
The singer was tiny. Dark curls clustered atxiut her face and there was a catch in her voice. She stood out in the shabbiness of the Club Lorain like a fawn in a herd of Holsteins. His glass halfway to his lips. Steve posed like a man reaching for a subway strap. The girl glanced at him, and one thin, mocking eyebrow lifted in amusement. When the song ended a moment later, the girl sat alone at a side table. Steve handed his untasted drink to the bartender and walked toward her.
"Would you mind.” he asked her, “if one of New York’s finer ad men told you the story of his life?”
Her eyes went quickly from his big, square hands to the leanness of his face. “Sit down,” she said. “I could use a success story.”
Steve pulled up a chair. “This is the happiest day of my life.”
“No.” Steve shook his head. “No. But it's an idea.” Before she went on again, Steve learned that her name was Nora Lee. When she returned from the next intermission. he continued.
“So I quit the department store,” he said, “and went back to see old sourpuss—that’s Zimmerley.”
"And he resigned in favor of you,” Nora laughed.
“Not quite. He said. ‘Nolan, I just landed a farm machinery contract. I don’t need a clever man. I want someone who can write sincere, vigorous copy that will sell farmers.’ And I said, ‘Mr. Zimmerley, I was once the champion hay pitcher of Northfield County.’ Let’s dance.” They danced, and Steve gave the beady eye to jxitrons whose eyes lingered over Nora’s trim figure. And by two o’clock Steve's mind was a jumble of tractors, reapers and binders, with a small dark-eyed brunette sitting in the driver’s seat.
AT THREE o’clock Nora left the bandstand, disappeared from the main room and returned in a tailored suit to find a con» of waiters glaring at the lone cash customer.
Nora held out her hand. “I’ve never been west of Weehawken, but if I ever meet a farmer I’ll plug your line. Lots of luck.”
Steve rose hurriedly. “Where you going?”
“To the subway, home and to bed.”
"My car’s a block away,” Steve said, “I’ll drive you.” “I live in Fiatbush. It’s a half-hour’s drive.”
"I wish it would take six weeks,” Steve said fervently. Steve felt a twinge of conscience as they rode down toward the Manhattan bridge. “You should have gagged me,” he said. “Let’s talk about you. The only singers I ever knew were the ones in the choir back home in Northfield.”
“I’m the newest rage in café society,” Nora answered. "I sing nightly at the exclusive Club Lorain to the plaudits of the best people.”
“You're swell,” Steve said.
"I’m a liar.” Nora seemed to shrink down a little on the worn leather cushion. “I’m not the rage. I’m not even a whisper. The Club Lorain is a honkytonk and the best ixople stay away in droves.”
“You have the voice, personality, and the looks,” Steve declared. "What more do you need?”
Her smile was forced. “Publicity, maybe. I guess I don’t know how to be sensational. But never mind that. It’s one of New York's minor tragedies.”
Twenty minutes later she directed Steve to a side street and he pulled up before a duplex in a row of similar houses. While site fished for her key, Steve said, “How about dinner tomorrow night?”
“I’d love to.” Nora said, “but I can't."
“Lunch?” Steve persisted.
Nora was solemn. “Steve.” she said, “I can't have dates. I sing every night from six until three. I get home at four and sleep until noon. By the time I get in to town I have to rehearse, see my agent, or my hairdresser. When that’s over it’s time for me to start at the Club Lorain.”
“No hairdresser or honkytonk is going to bust up this romance.” Steve said. “When do I see you?”
“I've been singing at the Lorain for two months.” Nora went on. “I hate it. But I’m going to be successful if I have to corral the cash customers personally from Park Avenue. Some day I '11 have a better job. But now I’m only available at three a.m. I'm sorry, Steve, because I like you. I want to see you again.”
“You will,” Steve said. “Plenty.” He looked as belligerent as when he had faced Mr. Zimmerley. “I’ll ring you.” At four-twenty Steve pounded wearily up the steps of his rooming house. He undressed to the accompaniment of a chirping sparrow and a sunrise. Yawning, he set the alarm for seven-thirty and realized with a shock that his advertising career was four and a half hours away.
Steve reported that morning with circles under his eyes. He was muttering to himself. “While I eat breakfast, she sleeps. While I eat lunch, she wakes up. When I finish work, she goes to work. Three a.m.! Romeo was a piker.”
A WEEK later Steve’s step was faltering, his eyes were bloodshot and he was in the papers. Silk Stanley, Broadway columnist of the Daily Record, had immortalized him.
“SCREWBALL ITEM ... At two-thirty this a.m. we discovered a well-dressed, husky young man perched on a South Street bulkhead staring into the bay. He raised a haggard head as we approached.
‘Waiting for something?’ we enquired.
‘A date,’ he snapped. ‘What about it?’
Turning back, he became absorbed in a grapefruit that bobbed on the oily black water. As we stole away we
caught a confused jumble of words. ‘She sleeps while I eat breakfast, she wakes up while I eat lunch” . . .
Steve was called into Mr. Zimmerley’s office that day. He stood blinking before the desk. Mr. Zimmerley eyed him paternally.
‘‘Nolan,” he said, ‘‘you’ve done good work. But you look like a fugitive from justice. What’s the matter?” Steve’s eyes focused on Mr. Zimmerley’s watch chain. “I've been up kind of late these nights with a friend.” “Sickness?” enquired Mr. Zimmerley.
"Life and death matter.”
“All right,” Mr. Zimmerley went on. “I'm just warning you. You’re a good prospect, Nolan, but you can’t write in your sleep. That’s all.”
The solution came to Steve right then. Marriage! Nora could sing while she shook the dust mop over the fire escape. But he didn’t want to propose while he had both hands on the steering wheel. He thought over the trek to Fiatbush and chose his setting.
At eleven-thirty that night Steve’s landlady—name of Reilly—watched Steve drive around the corner, and then turned to her next-door neighbor—name of Macintosh.
“Ivery night,” said the Widow Reilly, “he creeps down the stairs like a cat. Comes home at four in the mornin’ and nivir a word out of him. I met him the other mornin’ in the hall, creepin’ in he was. ‘And wherever you been keepin’ yerself to this hour?’ I ask him, real pleasant.
“ ‘Brooklyn,’ he says.”
The Macintosh gazed with interest after the departed Steve. “We'll all be murthered in our beds,” she said. “I always thought he had the look uv a gangster.”
Downtown, Steve walked past the Club Lorain, hesitated and went on. “All I can do is look at her,” he said, “she might as well be in Timbuctoo.”
He began his nocturnal vigil. At two o’clock he stepped into a fashionable night club in the fifties. Alone at one table Steve recognized Silk Stanley pencilling on the tablecloth. The columnist glanced at Steve, then thrust back his chair and hurried forward. He was lean and nervous, with a perpetual cynical droop to his mouth.
“Say,” he said jovially, “I never expected to see you again. That item about you was the best thing I ever wrote. I must be living right.”
“That’s too bad,” Steve said.
“You look tired. If it’s insomnia, maybe you should try counting lamb chops.” He jerked out his watch, then grinned gleefully. “It's two-thirty now.” he said. “What are you waiting for this time?”
Steve eyed him malevolently. “A date.”
Silk Stanley regarded him with awe. “You better find her soon or she won’t recognize you.” He shook his head in admiration. “Kid, if you pop up a few more times I'll be getting a raise.”
“You can use it to pay a hospital bill, maybe,” Steve said.
“Don’t be mad,” Stanley laughed. “Can I help it if you’re money from home? How long have you been waiting for this gal?”
Steve thought over the past week. “All my life,” he said, and walked out.
AT THREE o’clock he collected Nora. She slid into the car beside him, eyes sparkling. Steve was too excited to talk. He kept a heavy foot on the gas until he was on Fiatbush Avenue, and then he turned into a side street and
parked the car under a big tree. There was a diner on the corner and he steered Nora inside.
She put her hand over his. “It's fun having breakfast with you, Steve. Some day it will be dinner. But not very soon. I’m afraid.”
“Anything wrong?” Steve asked.
She smiled wryly. “I had a session with my agent today. A ski'd him why he couldn't do a little more for me. He wasn’t especially interested.”
“He’s a punk.” Steve said. “I'll tell him so. I'll—” “Don’t blame him.” Nora said. "He said if I wanted publicity badly enough, there were ways of getting in the papers.”
“That’s another guy I'll put in the hospital.” Steve snapped.
Nora smiled at him.
“Don't worry. I’m afraid I'm a home girl. Rich man body snatching isn’t my forte.”
“You’re adorable.” Steve whispered. “I’d like to make you a home girl.”
Nora's arm was tucked through his as they left the diner. Steve pulled her to a stop before the lighted window of a cheap jewellery store. “Speaking of engagement rings,” he said huskily, “I suppose those are paste, but do any of the styles take your fancy?”
Nora looked and said nothing. The silence that enveloped them was all their own. “Nora,” Steve said. “Nora, I —”
“Whaddya want?” broke in a harsh voice.
A squad car was at the curb. Two interested officers peered at them from the front seat.
“We’re looking at engagement rings,” Steve said bluntly.
“Four a.m. is a funny time to be doin’ it,” the driver said.
“What do I have to do?”
Steve demanded. “Get a permit? against looking at rings?”
“Oh ” said the driver. “Fresh guy, huh?”
“He is fresh.” Nora interrupted, “but he’s nice.” “C’mon.” Steve hurried Nora back to the darkness of his car. Fie looked at her and he couldn’t wait any longer. He pulled her close to him and his lips pressed against hers. Her arm came up about his neck and tightened hard. This is the way it’s going to be forever, Steve thought.
Nora suddenly pulled away. A beam of light slanted across them from the squad car that had pulled around the corner.
Steve put his head out of the window. “What do you think this is?” he yelled. “A policeman’s benefit?”
“Probably a wife and six kids at home.” the squad car driver said. “One of those Communists, most likely.” Steve started the car and didn’t speak until they stopped at Nora’s. “I wanted it to be romantic,” he said. “I wanted to find a quiet spot. But I can’t wait any longer. I love you. Forget your singing and marry me.”
Nora kissed him. She didn’t say anything. “Honey.” Steve began. “I—”
“You’ve forgotten something.” Nora said in a whisper. “I love you too, Steve. But I want to be able to see you at some other time except from three to four a.m.”
“Give up your singing.” Steve said. “You can yodel while you’re burning the toast. I like burnt toast.”
He stared grimly at her. “You said you loved me.”
“I do, darling. But I'm going to be a singer. You did everything to become a copywriter. I feel the same way about singing. And there’s another reason. Mother paid for all my years of singing lessons, now she’s waiting for her dividends. She wants to be able to turn on the radio and listen to me. And I’m going to get there, Steve. I just can’t quit. Don’t you understand?”
Steve thumped the steering wheel with his fist. "Dx>k here. You love me, I love you. I'm able to support you.
I never met your mother, but I’ll bet she’s swell. You don’t know my folks, but they’re too far away to get in your hair.
I tell you we have everything we need.”
“Except time to see each other,” Nora said. “When I marry you, Steve. I want to be able to see you. to cook your meals and darn your socks.”
“Listen,” Steve said. “If you think I'm going to spend the best years of my life waiting around for you to retire, you’re crazy. I’m not one of these old faithful gents who
You got an ordinance
carries a girl's picture around for twenty years and marries when he’s tripping over his beard. I won’t wait.”
"Maybe you won’t have to.” Nora said. “Maybe something will happen, Steve. Maybe I’ll get a break and land a radio job. A one night a week job and you could have the boys in for poker. But one thing I do know. When I do marry you I want you to be a successful copywriter. And unless you get eight hours sleep a night you won’t be one. That’s final. I love you. but I’m stubborn.”
F'or two days Steve didn’t see Nora. He went to bed early, but he couldn’t sleep. He felt worse and he looked it. On the second afternoon Mr. Zimmerley called him into
“Young man,” said Mr. Zimmerley, and he was not paternal this time, “I am not heartless. I contribute to charity. But I think you have been sitting up long enough with this sick friend. I think your friend had better die or recover fast. You started out like a forest fire, Nolan. I hope you haven’t burned yourself out. I haven’t given up on you yet. I say not yet, Nolan. All right.”
“Yes, sir.” said Steve sharply cutting off a yawn.
1 f it weren't for theBrooklyn |X)lice force, he thought, going back to his desk, Nora might have accepted him. What he and Nora needed was privacy. A mountain top for example. “Mountain top,” he said exultantly. He had one!
That evening Steve bought ham and eggs, coffee cake and coffee. Nora was singing a gay, silly song
when he entered the Club Lorain at two-thirty and
Steve thought it was swell. Nora grinned, waved a slim hand at him and put so much umph into the number that even the bartender straightened up and smiled. At three o’clock she came to Steve. “I ’ve missed you so. But you shouldn’t have come.
I won’t let you take me farther than the subway.” “Tonight,” Steve said, "you’re going picknicking on a mountain top.”
It was a grand night. The stars lined up in regiments and the moon paraded across the sky in front of them like a t ipsy major-general. Steve wheeled the car down the Fix press Highway, shot through the tunnel and onto the Pulaski skyway across the Jersey meadows. They whistled past a sleeping Newark and into Montclair for the climb to the summit of Eagle Rock. It was cold and still at the top, and while Steve coaxed a fire into life Nora huddled in a blanket and looked at the New York lights.
The fire crackling, Steve pulled Nora to him. She was lost in the blanket and the feather on her hat poked out. “Paleface lovum Injun princess,” Steve said.
“Someday makum squaw,” Nora giggled. The giggle died. “I've been offered a new job starting next week,” she said. “It's in Pittsburgh."
“Pittsburgh!” Steve exploded. “How the devil am I going to see you in Pittsburgh?”
Nora raised her head. “And how am I going—to—see— you—” she said, her lower lip curling outward and her eyes sparkling tears. She laughed a little shakily and fumbled for a handkerchief. “This job is better than the Club Lorain. It pays ten dollars more a week. It’s a step up, Steve. Aren’t you glad for me?”
“No. Pittsburgh! Then half a dozen other cities. I don’t want to make love by correspondence.”
He broke three eggs into the frying pan while Nora made the coffee. A little later Steve slid a slice of ham onto a paper plate and an egg on the ham. Their feet toward the fire, they ate and looked at the red beacon on the Empire State Building.
“If you married me,” Steve said, “we could do this in the kitchen every night.”
Nora looked into the fire. “You could take a Saturday afternoon train to Pittsburgh, Steve,” she said. "I won't have to see my agent there; I'll have a little more freedom. We might even have Sunday afternoons together.” She reached up and kissed him.
“No,” Steve said. “I want more than Sunday afternoons.
I want it to be like this—romantic, peaceful—”
He broke off as a siren shrilled into the night. It wailed, died away and then wailed again. It seemed to be coming from both sides of the mountain and they heard the sound Continued on page 54
Continued from page 11—Starts on page 11
of a motor. Nora hugged Steve hard, and then as the (lames danced high a (ire truck came into the light, screamed to a stop and men in helmets pik'd into the road.
Steve rose slowly as the men came toward him. “Somebody reported a forest fire up here,” the captain said.
“Why didn’t he mind his own business?” Steve said. “You can go on back to bed.”
“Well, there is a fire.” the man pointed out logically. “What’s it for?”
“For a picnic,” Steve said.
He (lushed. The firemen crowded around him. and another siren announced . the near arrival of a second hook and ladder outfit.
“I didn’t quite get what you said,” the captain went on.
“Picnic.” Steve repeated stolidly.
“1 never heard of a picnic at four o’clock in the morning,” the fire captain said. The firemen edged closer, and the second hook and ladder outfit rolled to a stop, emptying a crop of new arrivals.
, “He’s having a picnic,” the first fire j captain said solemnly to the second (ire i captain.
The second fire captain moved closer to Í Steve, but not too close. “You feel all
right?” he enquired. “Got pains in the back of your head?”
“I felt swell until you came along,” Steve said.
Nora stood up abruptly, ignoring the admiring fire fighters. “Let’s go, Steve. They’re all crazy.”
“We’re crazy?” said the second fire captain. “We’re—”
“Listen,” Steve said. “You came up here to put out a fire. Well, put it out.” Neither he nor Nora spoke until they were on the highway. “Why,” Steve complained feelingly, “can’t we be left alone? Even on a mountain top they come after us. I bet if we took a rowboat and went out past Sandy Hook the coast guard and the harbor police would come aboard.”
At six o’clock he pulled up in front of her home. “See you tomorrow night,” he said. “I guess 1 mean tonight. I don’t know what I mean.”
"Why don’t you forget about me,” Nora said, “and find a girl who’s sensible and only wants to be a housewife?”
"Good idea,” Steve answered, “only what would she do with her evenings while I was waiting to bring you home?” Nora bit her lip. “I’ll miss you, Steve.
But I have to go.” She kissed him and went inside.
Steve drove home, put his car in the garage and took the subway downtown. After consuming four cups of coffee he staggered to work.
AT FIVE-THIRTY Steve left the xx office, bought his paper and dropped wearily into the uptown subway. Standing on the platform, he turned the pages and paused at Silk Stanley’s column.
“SCREWBALL ITEM . . . continued . . . the wild-eyed young man of the docks found his date last night . . . he treed her on a mountain top at four a.m. . . . unfortunately twro fire companies broke up the romance ... In the confusion the young man left a coffeepot behind him which was confiscated by the hook and ladder outfits . . . Who said the age of chivalry is dead? . . . He’d swim the deepest river —he’d climb the highest mountain . . . ”
The subway guard was reading over Steve’s shoulder. As the train stopped he leer«! atSteve. “Imagineadopelikethat,” he said.
Promptly after Steve had eaten he went to bed and set the alarm for midnight. At twelve-thirty he was peering in the window of the Club Lorain, looking at Nora on the bandstand. He wandered along the street, looking glumly at the couples who jostled him. They made him feel bad, and he ducked down the steps of the Swan Club and bumped squarely into Silk Stanley.
Silk Stanley gaped incredulously, then seized him. “Pal!” he said.
“Go away,” Steve said. “I don’t like you, Stanley.”
“I love you.” Stanley said. “You’re a horseshoe. Tell me tonight’s program, rabbit’s foot? I’ll bet you can’t top that picnic. That was a sweetheart.”
“What’s so funny,” Steve said, “about a guy that can’t see his girl before three a.m.?”
The columnist’s expression was solicitous. “Too, too bad,” he said. “Does she work the night shift in an iron foundry?”
Steve’s right hand was a bit rusty, but it packed power. He swung and Silk Stanley sagged to the floor. He sat up slowly, assisted by two waiters, and rubbing his chin, looked hard at Steve.
“Put that in your lousy column,” Steve said.
The waiters aided Stanley to his feet. “I see this guy once before,” one waiter said. “After I get through here one night I see him cornin’ out of the Club Lorain with a dame.”
v Silk Stanley laughed nastily. “That joint,” he said contemptuously. “Some two bit torch singer taking you over the hurdles—”
Steve’s accuracy improved with practice. The second swing landed just beneath the ear and Silk Stanley went down to stay.
Three waiters helped Steve to a quick exit. “Nuts to you guys,” Steve said, and went back to the Club Lorain. It was onethirty and Nora came off the bandstand for an intermission.
“Hello and good-by, darling,” she said. “You’re not taking me home tonight. I’m in love with a copywriter, not an owl. Back to bed, dear. Please.”
“I’m taking you home,” Steve said stubbornly.
“So help me,” Nora said, “if you wait for me I’ll slip out the back and call a cab. You can see me tomorrow night, but tonight you’re going to sleep if I have to call an ambulance and a strait jacket.”
“I won’t go,” Steve said, planting his feet.
“Will you walk out, or do you make a three-point landing on the sidewalk?”
“Bring on your bouncer. I fixed one gent tonight.”
Nora sighed. “If you love me, Steve, you’ll go home.”
“You win,” Steve said glumly. “See
you tomorrow.” He let Nora lead him to the door. She kissed him and stood watching after him until he had rounded the comer.
STEVE was in bed at two. He awoke at eight-fifteen and shaved without nicking himself. At nine he slid in behind his desk and w ent to work. At one o'clock he had his lunch brought in. At five-thirty when the office closed he was still working, and finally at seven he gathered up his material and dropped it on Zimmerley’s desk. It was good and he knew it.
He was too exhausted even to look at a j paper on the way home. He went to bed after supper, got up at twelve-thirty, showered, dressed and started downtown.
“Tomorrow,” he said to himself, ”1 won’t be able to work. But I have to see her tonight. Pittsburgh! Why does it have to be Pittsburgh? Aren’t there enough places in New York?”
He glanced into the Club Lorain, then went on past and stepped into a corner lunchroom. He had two hours until three. “Pittsburgh!” he said.
Some time later Steve levelled a finger at the counterman. “Were you ever in love?”
The counterman dug at a molar with a toothpick. “Oncet.”
“What happened?” Steve asked.
The counterman sighed and looked wist1 fully at an oyster keg. “I married her.” “I love a girl I never see,” Steve said. “I winder how she looks in the daytime with the sun on her face.”
“Some of these dames,” the counterman said, “look better in the dark.”
“I wish to remind you,” Steve said coldly, “that we are speaking of the woman I love.”
He walked toward the door, groggy for want of sleep, stepped out on the sidewalk and started toward the Club Lorain. A policeman eyed him steadily and Steve looked balefully at the officer. “Sneak,” he said loudly, and proceeded on his way until he stood before the Club Lorain. “Newspapers having a Roman Holiday over me,” he said aloud.
It was three-ten or two-fifteen, Steve couldn’t quite make out which by his watch, he was so sleepy. But suddenly j Nora hurried out, looking radiant. She j stopped abruptly at sight of Steve. ‘Steve, i you’ve been drinking.”
Steve swayed and looked at her. She had never been so beautiful. It made him feel so sad he wanted to cry. “I’m a Roman’s Holiday,” he said. I’m just sleepy.”
“Darling,” she said, “I love you.” “Likewise,” Steve said. “Let’s find Silk Stanley. Last time I hit him he sagged. I ' want to see if I can make him bounce.” “Didn’t you see the paper?” Nora cried. “Steve.” She opened her purse and handed him a worn clipping from the Daily Record. Under the flashing light of a neon sign Steve read the item in Silk Stanley’s column.
“SCREWBALL ITEM . . . conclusion . . . this is about the wild-eyed young man and his date ... no wonder he’s wild-eyed . . . she’s a warbler at the Club Lorain, and if I'd seen her first I’d have climbed Eagle Rock on my hands ... she heartthrobs the cash customers nightly, and one of these days some smart sponsor is going to hear her and cash in . . . But only musically . . . she is definitely that way about the wild-eyed young man ...”
Steve gripped a lamp post for support, and the didoes went swirling out of his head.
“I had two radio offers tonight,” Nora cried. “One night a week. Oh, Steve, darling, let’s get married.”
Steve put his arms about her waist and lifted her off the sidewalk. He set her down carefully, pushed his hat back on his head and took a deep breath.
“Tomorrow,” he said in masterful tones, “I shall call for you for lunch.”