My Jackie O.

by Colin Pilney

They say that Jackie O. touched the lives of all who met her, from the humblest sommeliers to eastern European children's book illustrators. I'm not sure where I fall on that spectrum, but my meetings with Jackie, brief though they might have been, sure changed things for me.

The first one was back in the eighties. I was partying with some college friends in Boston and we had made our way down to Rowe's Wharf. The last thing I remembered was a guy with a boat who was offering a retarded girl $20 for a blowjob. Then it was daylight and I was lying on the edge of a salt marsh. Jackie was standing over me. "What are you doing here? How did you get past security?" she screamed. I thought the veins in her neck would explode. The bodyguards arrived immediately, thick-fingered Irish thugs from Dorchester, or Hyde Park, or Marshfield, or from some other bestial warren. I thought she might have said something like, "Here's some fresh meat, boys," before I was taken in for interrogation, but I was too dazed to be sure. It turns out that I had been dropped off at her property on the Vineyard as a practical joke. The guards had their fun and let me go three days later.

I ran into Jackie again in New York, in the early nineties. Ran into her cab, actually. I was a grad student, and broke, so I rode a bike down Fifth Avenue every day to get to my temp job in Midtown. Somewhere in the 70's a taxi pulled over in front of me and its left rear door opened, suddenly. I put on the brakes, but flipped over the door anyway. I was lying on my back, half on the sidewalk, and half in the road, wondering what was broken, when I saw that the passenger getting out was Jackie herself. She glanced at me and muttered, shaking her head, "Stupid bastard." Then she addressed the driver with a cheery, "Keep the change." She never lost her special way of making the common folk feel special, they say. She pranced into an apartment building while the driver sped off to find the next fare. I crawled to the Cornell Medical Center. My bicycle was stolen and never recovered. I lost my temp job, too. You can't look into the sun too long without getting blinded, or at least that's what I told myself, for a while.

The grad student thing didn't really work out, partially due to my inability to concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes, or to keep my eyes focused on a printed page. I guess I started drifting for a while, staying with friends or apartment sitting. The best part was travelling as an international courier. A couple of years ago, I had a drop-off and a couple of free days in Paris. Jackie had her editorial work in New York, her sanctuary on the Vineyard, but it was Paris that she really adored. I was on my way to a museum to look at some paintings, when I noticed Jackie and a fat man sitting in a sidewalk café. She was wearing her trademark glasses and scarf and was impossible to miss.

I don't know what got into me, but I stopped and shouted, "Hey, Jackie! You still owe me for the hip replacement from when you doored me in New York!" Her fellow diners stopped eating and sipping and talking and stared, but Jackie ignored the comment. She could be hard when she wanted to be, when it mattered, you had to give her that. I could be harder, I thought. "Hey, Jackie," I continued, "Tell me this. If you're such a equestrienne, why do you always ride hunt seat? Why are your horses never round?" I used to sit in the park, for years, by the bridal path, when I had no place else to go, and wait for her to ride by. I knew she couldn't ride dressage. I knew it well. I had seen it. Anybody could see it, if they would just allow themselves to look. This got her and I was glad. I saw her lower lip tremble as the waiters hustled me down the street, or rue, as they say over there in the town that Jackie loved.

I couldn't tell, but I hoped that those eyes of hers, those eyes that were just a little too far apart, those eyes behind the big round glasses, were dampened in shame and humiliation. That was the last time I saw Jackie. I was a beast, I know, and now she's gone, leaving a big hole, as big and as round as the O in Jackie O, in each and every one of us left behind.






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