Excerpt from A Dream Deferred

Chapter One

December 1967. Fifteen years ago this month, twenty-seven-year-old Pearl Williams lost the light of her life. Tonight, she lifted her microphone from the stool on stage and waited for the blinding spotlight to engulf her.  She put it to her freshly painted lips and listened for her cue from the house band.  People of all shapes, sizes, and colors turned from sipping their drinks and adding to the smoky haze with their cigars and filtered cigarettes to focus their complete attention on the young woman whose voice never failed to enrapture them.

The sequined dress Pearl wore fit her slender shape with maximum power.  Strings of white pearls draped her honey-brown neck, falling just above her modest cleavage.  Her rings sparkled when the light hit them just right and her slender fingernails were painted blood red.  Her page-boy was curled at the neck, around her small ears and teased into a loose wave for bangs she could toss aside when they tickled her forehead.  She wrapped her hands around the microphone and when the chord she was waiting for sounded, she opened her mouth and sang Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of The Christmas Song  with her own sassy twist that garnered the light applause and admiring shouts of the usual Friday night crowd.

Pearl stepped from the stage and began her slow walk around the room, her smile ablaze with straight white teeth. Her voice was as smooth as butter, caressing the crowd like a tender lover. She  sometimes tapped the top of one of the cheap porcelain Christmas trees that decorated each table and when she reached the larger Christmas tree in the back, she disappeared for a few seconds and came out the other side with one arm raised as she belted out the crescendo of the chorus and held every note with the skill of a practiced songstress.  She soon returned to the stage, knowing she had the crowd in the palms of her hands. It was time to draw them to their feet with Billie’s tune Ain’t Nobody’s Bizz-ness If I Do. They moved their bodies against one another and every so often a careless laugh rang out.

But no one knew the loss that haunted her tonight as she went from song to song nonstop.  She usually could sing herself into paradise, but the heaviness was too great.  She had purposely chosen the final number of the set to perform on the anniversary of her Papa’s demise.  I Cover the Waterfront, poured from her soul like the rush of a mighty river:

Away from the city that hurts and knocks,

I’m standing alone by the desolate docks

In the still and the chill of the night

I see the horizon the great unknown

My heart has an ache

It’s as heavy as stone

With the dawn coming on, make it last


I cover the waterfront

I’m watching the sea

Will the one I love

Be coming back to me


I cover the waterfront

In search of my love

An I’m covered

By a starlit sky above


Here am I

Patiently waiting

Hoping and longing

Oh, how I yearn

Where are you

Have you thought back time?

Will you remember

Will you return


Will the one I love

Be coming back

To me?

Her face was glistening with sweat and tears by the song’s end. A subdued audience clapped lightly at first, then with a roar, standing to their feet.  She smiled, bowed and waved to acknowledge their adoration and returned the microphone to its place.  The band continued playing softly and her spotlight went out. Just as quick, her smile faded.

Pearlie. She froze mid-step.  Pearlie.  She answered, Papa?  For a few seconds she scanned the audience, fully expecting to see him with his hands cupped around his mouth shouting: That’s my baby girl! But he wasn’t there. He was never there.  She stared into the darkness and heard the words her mother had spoken when she came home from school that day. “Papa’s dead, baby.  I’m sorry.”

Author: Colleen Roberts

Colleen Roberts is a married mother of three grown children. She has lived in Brockton, MA for over thirty years. During that time she has been involved in the community, worked in the school system, and written books. Her publications include: The Phoenix Chronicles, Trilogy of Hope, and The Perfect Daughter. She is currently working at Amazon Sort Station in Stoughton, MA, also a freelance writer and editor, an occasional ghostwriter, inspired blogger.

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