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I STEAL A MATCHBOOK FROM MARILYN MONROE/PART FIVE

I TAKE MARILYN TO THE SECRET PLACE 

 She's Marilyn Monroe. But she has to go.

We have twenty funerals today. The Miller mourners have departed, leaving wisps of smoke, gum wrappers and crushed dixie cups. Now the reposing room has to be turned over. Porters are poised in the doorway with dustpans, vacuum cleaners and air fresheners. Behind them Shmattner/Aiello and Plotzstein/Celiberti have wheeled out another casket containing another freshly embalmed, cosmetized and dressed decedent. In the lobby a new bereaved family is waiting to enter the room and receive visitors.

I take a baby step toward Marilyn.

"Uh...The service is about to begin..."

She has been standing under light in the casket alcove like an actress on stage. She blinks and stares at me in utter disbelief.

"Excuse me...?"

In a life to come I will realize how presumptuous I must have seemed. Nobody tells Marilyn Monroe what to do. She is famously late and everyone waits. Directors, movie stars, studio heads, columnists--she even showed up late to sing "Happy Birthday " to JFK.

"The service is in the main chapel," I say. Another non-sequitur, but Marilyn understands.

"Look...I don't want to draw attention to myself. Is there a private room or something?"

There is a small two-seat opera box overlooking the chapel. No one ever sits there. It's used as a make out spot with the girls picked up in the bowling alley across the street.

"We have a special reserved balcony area for private viewing," I say. "Mr. Shmattner, would you tell Mr. Squires I'm taking Miss Monroe to the special balcony," I say.

The room is on the other side of the building, which means another trip down the service elevator through the basement. We pass the tohora room where the watcher stands over the shrouded body chanting in fervent prayer.

"Does he do this all day long?" Marilyn asks.

"He's supposed to," I say.

In the embalming room Krieger/Carraciola and Strauss/De Sousa are eating huge hero sandwiches, tomato sauce dripping. Behind them two cadavers raised up on the tables, seem to be staring covetously at their lunch.

A small elevator takes us to a dark vestibule on the second floor. There's the distinct odor of stale beer and drugstore perfume. I open the door. Heads turn in the chapel below; it's amazing how Marilyn broadcasts her presence. Everybody looks up at her, but Arthur, who stares straight ahead. I open a folding chair. Marilyn slips her coat over her shoulders. The rabbi waits until she is settled before he begins.

"I'll be outside," I whisper.

She doesn't seem to hear me.

In the vestibule, Albino's cigarette is glowing.

"She likes you," he whispers. "See how she put her hand on your wrist? Didja make small talk like I told you?"

"I told her I was working my way through college..."

"Keep it up. Give her an opening to make a date..."

"But what can I say?"

"Tell her you wanna be an actor and can she recommend a class," he says. "She'll say the Actors Studio where she goes and maybe she can put in a word. Get your foot in the door. Make your breaks...Don't be a schmuck all your life."

The rabbi is a pro, no long eulogies. Soon, I hear the announcement: "The funeral cortege will be leaving from the back parking lot." Marilyn is leaning over the balcony, waving to Mr. Miller. He beckons. She shakes her head and blows him a kiss. In a moment the chapel is empty. The casket is moved behind a curtain to a covered driveway where it will be loaded into the hearse. Another casket is wheeled in from behind another curtain. Flower pieces are arrayed. Shmattner/Aiello steps back to make sure the arrangement is perfect. The chapel door is opened and a new group of mourners ushered in.

"It's like a funeral factory in here," Marilyn says.

Is she giving me an opening?

"Twenty funerals," is all I can reply..

She shrugs back into her coat. Does she want me to help? What if I try and she brushes me off like she did to Albino?

"Can you take me back to my car?" she asks.

"Certainly..."

We go back down in the elevator. She bumps against me? Is she making a move? Could be the air. People get woozy in funeral parlors. We get a lot of fainters.

In the basement the porters are washing an old Packard hearse. Marilyn steps gingerly through the soapy puddles and takes my wrist between her thumb and forefinger, grazing me with her nail. A little electric chill shoots through me. Did she do it on purpose? I don't know, but she just made it onto my fantasy team.

The cortege rides alongside of us as we walk to her car. Every face in every window is turned to Marilyn. She puts on her dark glasses and speeds up, her heels clacking on the sidewalk. The chauffeur jumps out to open the door.

Some guys ride by in an Impala convertible. "We love you Marilyn," they shout. She waves, absently in their general direction. Then turns to me.

"You've been very patient with me, Mr...What's your name, anyway?"

"Heywood," I say.

"Heywood," she says. "Is that your mother's maiden name or something?"

"My father named me after a famous newspaper writer, Heywood Broun," I say.

"Well, what do they call you for short?"

I can't believe I've hit a bonanza of small talk over my name.

"Woody," I say. "I get made fun of a lot. You know Woody the Woodpecker or Hey-is-for horses...Heystacks Calhoun--he's a wrestler. Stuff like that..."

"You poor baby," she says. "Well, at least, no one will ever forget your name..."

The chauffeur has been holding the door during this exchange. Big guy with a booze dark face, he'd just love to step between us and give me a shove. "Is this guy botherin' you, Miss Monroe? Take a walk, pal..." Instead, we're having a pleasant conversation. And now he gapes as she reaches up and strokes my face. "Goodbye Heywood..."

Her fingers are warm and moist. "Goodbye, " I say.

She shrugs out of the coat and throws it in the back seat. Her butt bobbles as she climbs into the car. In another life I'll become an expert at spotting panty lines, but for now I'm convinced she is naked under that dress.

Something has dropped out of her coat pocket. A matchbook. I retrieve it as the car pulls away. I can call out to her, stop the car and return it. Instead, I put it in my pocket and saunter back to the chapel where everybody is clustered at the door eager to hear my story.

NEXT: THE MYSTERY OF THE CRYPTIC MATCHBOOK