Kitty Rawlins and the Archangel Spence (1654)
Yes, well, those were exciting times back then. ‘Course I was a young man with a young man’s sense of invincibility. Only, I wasn’t invincible to the charms of a pretty woman. No, sir, I certainly wasn’t invincible to those.
I remember the day Kitty Rawlins walked into my life. What a looker, she was! Tall and straight as a poplar, with melt-your-heart dark brown eyes the size of saucers and a smile as wide as Canada. Just light you up in a flash.
I was dealin’ with devils at the time, with the torments of drink and empty pockets.
I heard the rustle of her dress first and then her voice: ‘Why’s a man like you sleeping rough in the street?’
Her words flowed over me like honey, as she stretched out a hand and pulled me to my feet. ‘That’s better! You certainly look more dignified standing up.’
I didn’t know if I was being admired or admonished.
I only know I caught the whiff of gardenias as I came up level with her. She had kind of sharp features, all cheekbones and jaw and coils of hair pinned up. Reminded me of a school teacher, but she sure was pretty.
‘What’s your name?’ she asked me.
‘Spence,’ I told her.
‘Well, Spence…,’ she paused, ‘what kind of a name is that, anyway?’
‘Only one I got,’ I said.
That’s when her face split into this great gash of a smile; and, what with the glitter in her eyes and the shine off her teeth, I thought she was about to have me for her supper.
‘Never mind,’ she says; ‘Spence it is and we’re going to have a talk about your rehabilitation.’
‘I’m fine happy with this habitation right here,’ I tell her; ‘I like being out in the open.’
She just laughs and says, ‘Tell you what, Spence, see that cafe over there? We’re going to go in there and I’m going to buy you breakfast fit for a horse.’
Sounded like some infernal hell of the damned, when we walked in, like being smacked in the face by a west coast roller; folks jabbering, waitresses calling, trays banging, knives and forks striking on china, chef’s hollerin’ and a coffee machine building up steam like a locomotive.
Boy, I’m tellin’ you, if that whole buildin’ had taken off across country, wouldn’t have surprised me one bit!
She led me through an arch to a table where it was quieter somewhat and talked all the while I ate. By the time I’d finished my eggs and fried potatoes and bacon and tomatoes and God knows what else, I was totally smitten. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I tell you, if the hog’s puddin’ had gone in my ear ‘stead of my mouth, I wouldn’t have noticed.
‘So, that’s the deal,’ she ended up; ‘What do you say?’
‘Yes,’ is what I said, though I’d no idea what the deal were. I’d been too busy watchin’ her mouth dimplin’ at the corners as she spoke and wonderin’ at the way stray strands of her hair went curlin’ round her ears like petals round a bud.
‘Course, I had no idea what I was lettin’ myself in for. Force of nature that Kitty Rawlins. Certainly was. Force of nature, all right.
Spark came into her eyes, like a hunting dog on the scent, and we were off.
She had me shaved, barbered and bathed and then reclothed, before I’d had time to put the cap back on the ketchup.
‘You’re a fine looking man under all that degradation,’ she said finally, appraising me out on the sidewalk.
Caught sight of myself in a store window and didn’t know who I was looking at. Person in the reflection got nothing to do with the person inside me, I can tell you that.
‘Aidycomp’, she called me, whatever that means.
Well, I’d worked fairgrounds, games parks and race courses, too. I get along pretty well with horses. But I’d never been an escort before.
Deal turned out to be I was to accompany Ms Rawlins on her lecture tour. Drove her from town to town, big ones, little ones, didn’t make no matter; took the door at her rallies and made sure she got back safely to her room every night.
There were plenty of folks wanted to do her harm, once she opened up on poverty and deprivation and the need for equality, no matter where you come from or what the colour of your skin was. Said women were the most put upon of all and she wanted laws changed to give them equal rights with men, who were makin’ all the rules.
Never had so many arguments and fist fights before or since. Husbands, businessmen, die-hards, even some starch-faced matrons, all came pilin’ in. Had my nose broken twice and my jaw, ribs kicked in and enough black eyes to spot a leopard!
‘Why are you being so provocative, Spence?’ she would say, dabbin’ at the cuts on me with some stingin’ ointment of hers. ‘I never knew a man before with your inclination for getting into trouble.’
And I’d get so all-fired riled up at the turn-around injustice of it that I could hardly get my words out. ‘It’s you doin’ all the provokin’!’ I’d explode. ‘I’m just…I’m just lookin’ out for you, all the time. So…so…Goddammit!’
Next thing, she’d be grinnin’ and laughin’ at me with so much evident delight, she took all the hurtin’ and the anger out of me. And then she’d come in close, puttin’ her face up to mine and fixin’ me with those eyes of hers like sinkin’ sand, you could fall right into them. Restin’ the palm of her hand on me, ‘Spence,’ she’d say, soft as if someone had turned the volume down low, ‘You’re my protector, my street angel.’ And she’d lift up on her toes and kiss me so lightly it felt like I’d got feathers on my lips…oh, boy! I’d tremble at the sweetness of her, I can feel it now. ‘You’re my Michael and you’re going to join the Archangels. Archangel Spence.’
I didn’t know if she was foolin’ with me or fallin’ in love with me. But I do know it sort of filled me out…as if everything was right with the world and with me. Gave me a sense of purpose and…I don’t know…of a kind of goodness in myself. Yes, you could say that….yes, indeed.
Anyway, there I were, lookin’ out for her, when one night in the middle of one of her speeches…don’t remember where exactly…some meeting hall up north, maybe…a bunch of guys come burstin’ in, wavin’ clubs, just itchin’ for a fight and yellin’ out against her, callin’ her a ‘commie dyke’ and tellin’ her to ’take her tits back to the kitchen’ and worse. And, in the commotion that followed, a stream of cops come pilin’ in…helmets, riot shields, the lot…break up the meetin’ and cart Kitty Rawlins away, arrestin’ her for disturbin’ the peace.
When I started protestin’ and tryin’ to explain wasn’t none of her fault, one of ‘em slammed me with his truncheon and hauled me out to the van. Turned out he’d broken my collarbone and I ended up at the hospital.
She got 3 years in prison on some technical charge I never really understood, somethin’ about underminin’ the political and economic stability of the state. Didn’t seem to dim her light none; told the judge he was ‘a patriarchal dinosaur’, which earned her an extra month for contempt.
They fined me a whole lotta money and I went back on the road, didn’t want no more part of their world. Wrote to Kitty a few times, once I was someplace long enough to hear back from her. Her replies always came addressed to ‘Archangel Spence ’. But she got moved and I didn’t know where. Besides, by that time, I’d gotten involved with a long distance truck driver, Della Riva; and I was happy enough for a time ridin’ along with her, with her wild hair like a burning bush and legs as sturdy as the tree trunks she was haulin’.
Didn’t last though, no more than any of the others. Somehow, my thoughts always went back to Kitty, like she’d carved her name in my brain. Middle of nowhere, there she’d be, fillin’ my head, just standin’ there, hands on hips, and grinnin’ at me, scent of gardenias in the air.
Then, blow me, one day I’m fixin’ some barn doors…had a small maintenance business at the time…when the farmer’s wife comes over, tells me there’s a phone call.
‘Would that be the Archangel Spence, by any chance?’ Her voice was deeper, but I’d have recognized the teasin’ note to it anyplace. Damn near fell over with the shock of it.
‘Kitty Rawlins!’ I exploded. ‘Well, I…I…’
Just as well she cut short my stammerins, as I was pure lost for words, couldn’t get my wits together.
‘I see you’ve lost none of your eloquence,’ she says. ‘No Matter. The thing is, Spence, I’m running for public office and I need someone I can trust.’
‘Course, I went. Dropped everythin’. Turned out campaignin’ wasn’t much different to lecturin’, ‘cept she got elected, not arrested. Did a lot of good things, too. Folks’ll say I’m biased, no doubt, ’cause I stayed with her after that, all those years before the cancer got her. Never did marry her though. Wanted to. Proposed to her any number of times, but she’d just wink at me: ‘Archangels can’t get married, Spence, can they?’ And she’d put her arms round me and whirl me around in a dance, till she spun the idea right out of my head…until the next time, anyway.