The picture above comes from the actual sketchbook that inspired me to write my novel, The Bird That Sang in Color. In fact, all of the drawings I’ve been featuring in this latest blog series come from this same sketchbook. This drawing shows the character, Vincent at his job as a security guard in a casino in Atlantic City, where he worked in the early nineties. He lived in an apartment in nearby Ventnor and Donna would go to visit him there frequently. The scene below is from one of her visits.
From Chapter Seven of The Bird that Sang in Color
“Wanna go to White House?” he asked, standing up and putting his guitar in its case.
“Sure,” I said, putting my cigarette out. “I haven’t had a cheesesteak in years.”
As we were almost out the door, I saw a sketchbook on one of his tables, and I rejoiced inside to know that he was drawing again. We went out the door and down the steps to find the sun shining bright and the air heavy with damp, warm ocean breezes. I offered to drive, but he said we should walk, so we started up Atlantic Avenue, passing by three-story houses with windows that wrapped around them, brown-stone apartment buildings, and the occasional shop, one of which was a shoe store.
“Let’s go in,” I said, looking in the window.
I needed a new pair of sandals to replace the ones I wore that were falling apart. Shopping for myself, as opposed to shopping for Frank and the kids, was something that happened with the infrequency of a solar eclipse. I was looking for something plain, drab, and practical like my falling-apart ones when a pair of royal blue suede clogs popped out at me. They were completely impractical and way too warm for the season, but I had to have them.
“Do you have these in a nine?” I said with urgency to the closest salesperson I saw.
“I’ll go check,” she said, turning to me, her straight blond hair falling into her very tanned face.
“Thank you so much,” I said. I looked over at Vincent, who sat by the door looking out the window. It was so nice to be shopping with someone who wasn’t yanking on my arm, telling me to “C’mon, Mom, we have to get to the toy store before it closes!” or something like that.
When the saleslady came back with a box, I was ecstatic and had to contain myself from grabbing the box out of her arms like I was going to steal the shoes and make a run for it. I put the clogs on to find they fit perfectly and looked great on my feet that had grown a full size since having three kids. I walked around the store, looking in every short shoe mirror and every tall mirror, loving what I saw. I went over to where Vincent sat to show him the clogs, and he looked at them and then up at me like he wasn’t crazy about them.
“You’re just jealous because I can sing the Elvis song,” I said as I stared in the mirror to see myself looking transformed by the shoes, my skin glowing luminously like flower petals in the morning light. He laughed. I bought them and put them on and tossed my shitty old sandals in the first trashcan I saw. I felt like I was walking on water as we went down the street, singing Blue Suede Clogs, me staring at every reflective surface we passed.
When we got to White House, I was a little bummed because I had to stop walking. I glanced at the giant, cartoonish hoagie on top of the little stone building and stepped inside to a place filled with orange vinyl booths and walls covered with photos of celebrities—the Beatles, Tony Bennett, Jerry Lewis, Jimmie “J.J.” Walker to name a few—all of whom supposedly ate there at one time or another. The smell of cheesesteaks and fried onions permeated the air, and being there felt like a special occasion even though it was just a hoagie joint.
This post is part of my latest blog series on the artwork that inspired the family saga, The Bird that Sang in Color. The art featured in these posts comes from a sketchbook that belonged to my brother, Vincent, which I discovered shortly after his death. It had pictures he’d drawn of himself throughout various phases of his life. This pictorial autobiography caused me to wonder what pictures I’d have of myself by the end of my life, which motivated me to live more fully. In writing this novel, I was able to share this powerful realization with the world. This novel is the third book in the Greco Family Trilogy. Each one of these family trilogy books is told from a different family member’s point of view. This one is told from the perspective of the Greco family matriarch, Donna.
Grace Mattioli is the author of the Greco Family Trilogy books, including Olive Branches Don’t Grow on Trees, Discovery of an Eagle, and The Bird that Sang in Color. These books are available from all major online book sellers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple Books.