Frankie had money in his pocket and no wish to climb the stairs to see how Rita was, feeling in no mood to be entertaining.
“Keep an eye on the girl, Peano.” he said.
Peano was caught up in a rush, serving the drug- hungry clients who ordered Hashish and cups of tea.
“That bloody woman is all up there again! All time, that bloody Irish Annie is there!” he shouted as he turned away from serving but Frankie had already left, hoping to play some dice at one of the secret ‘Spieler’ joints and to buy some drink, perhaps to find Scouse Lil and spend a happy night.
Frankie did not win at the gambling table and after buying a bottle he traveled the Street, visiting the dives and not finding Scouse Lil.
Cross-Eyed Eileen was more than happy to entertain Frankie and he became as cross-eyed as she was when, drunk and incapable, he fell into a deep stupor. Eileen smiled at the easy night’s work, rifling through his pockets and stealing the remainder of his money before leaving quietly. She knew that Frankie would take it all in his stride, understanding that what she stole was just ‘Perks’ of the job.
It was the early evening of the next day when Frankie awoke to the realisation that he was in a strange bed and had been fleeced of his money. Not that he knew how much he had left but he did remember Cross-Eyed Eileen and laughed aloud at the thought of her cheek. He decided not to get one of the girls to punish her and still chuckled at his thoughts as he clattered his way down into Peano’s café.
“Heya! Heya, Bambino!” shouted the excited little Italian, dancing towards Frankie with dainty steps.
The room seemed unusually empty, even for this early evening hour.
“Come see, Bambino! See what is happening!”
Frankie followed Peano up the stairs and on reaching Frankie’s room, Peano with his face alight, stood back and motioned Frankie to open the door.
The room was a blaze of light and pink all over. Frankie stood in amazement, his eyes trying to take in the change. There were new pink curtains up against clean windows. A pink eiderdown smothered the bed which now straddled a lush pink
carpet. There were pictures on the pink walls, country scenes of huntsmen and hounds chasing an unlucky fox. The whole room smelt of pink blossom. In one corner Irish Annie was bouncing in excitement and holding a bunch of flowers. Her face was wreathed in smiles as she posed like a bridesmaid. In the middle of the room stood the fragile figure of Rita, serious-faced but the loveliest girl Frankie had ever seen.
Frankie was lost for words, his eyes only for the girl who stood in front of him. Instinctively and with some embarrassment Frankie stepped forward, to kiss her lightly on the lips, bending as she reached up to meet him. Her blue eyes searched his for a while, then she smiled up at him.
“Fuck’s sake!” was all he could say.
Irish Annie threw her flowers on the bed and clapped loudly. Frankie then became aware of the other girls, Scouse Lil and Slow Carol who also cheered and clapped loudly. Peano too, hopped from one foot to the other though his eyes did not smile.
Frankie was told how earlier that day Irish Annie and the other girls had planned the evening. They had shopped, bargained and fought over the things they needed and shoplifted what they could not afford.
The shopping spree had taken them through the confines of the ‘Waste’, the Whitechapel Market and back through the Jewish Market off the Commercial Road. Money was spent, with even Peano having got caught up in the excitement and purchasing food which had never before graced any Cable Street table. Irish Annie had given Rita the full treatment, the facial, the make-up cleverly disguising the thin red line which still scarred the neck. Her hair had been groomed and shined through efforts of patience and care. She had been dressed by her ‘Ladies in Waiting’, who pronounced themselves to be the ‘Scrubber Maids’, giggling like young girls all the time. custom formal dresses
That night Peano closed up the café, something unheard of in the Street. Locking the door he had employed the giant Johnny One-Eye to keep out those who were not on the welcome list. Johnny One-Eye scrutinised each person who arrived, his good eye blinking as he checked names against the list and staring menacingly out of his one good eye at those who argued when he refused to let them in.
At first, Rita had refused.
“I can’t go downstairs,” she had wailed.
“Oh but you have to, me little darlin’. Don’t you see! ‘Tis the darlin’s birthday today. Frankie’s birthday!”
“I didn’t know!” exclaimed Rita, staring at Frankie with accusing eyes.
Frankie shrugged. What did birthdays mean to him? Birthdays were for those kids who had families and love around them. No-one had birthdays in Cable Street.
That night Frankie was alive to his feelings, his face beaming like a soft full moon with eyes that were hound-dog soft as he danced with Rita, slow and comfortable to the sound of an old Frankie Laine number, ‘Te Amo’.
Peano had gone out of his way to get the record after hearing from Irish Annie that it was Frankie’s favourite.
“It’s a song for fuckers and lovers.” had said Frankie.
Frankie pulled Rita into him so knees and thighs melted in search. It was a night for love, a night to remember.
Frankie thought about Joey, tucked up somewhere in a harsh and disciplined prison. Joey would have loved this, Frankie thought and missed him.
“You know summat, Bro?” Joey had once announced. “There are only a few times in your life when you really feel great, when you’re on top of the world. The best of those is when you walk into a dance-hall and all the girls are looking at you and all wanting you. And the next best is when you have a girl in your arms who stares into your eyes with love as you dance to a great song. It’s one of those times when you can bless the Lord for living.”
This was one of those nights, with the dancing, the eyes and the music and Frankie blessed the Lord for giving him this night and the girl who snuggled up close to him as they swayed.
It was also Joey who Frankie had to thank for, with this surprise party. Irish Annie told him later that Joey had written to Scouse Lil, telling her when it was Frankie’s birthday.
“He wanted you to have a drink on him and the lovin’ man will be out soon to kiss you himself.” she said, kissing Frankie’s face.
Frankie had many drinks in Joey’s name and raised his glass, his eyes alight. He also danced many times to ‘Te Amo’, looking at no-one except the slim, elfin-like Liverpool girl.
Peano had taken over Johnny One-Eye’s job, allowing the hulking brute to slump onto a chair with a bottle of beer in each hand.
Peano stood at the top of the stairs with the door locked tight and with his back to the door, his eyes roving the dancers on the floor below. His eyes picked out the dancing couples but each time the olive eyes swung back to the couple in the middle of the floor. He watched them now, his eyes betraying
his feelings of wanting and jealousy. It broke his heart to watch them, slowly dancing and kissing, knowing that before the night was out they would be together, laying upstairs in the pink room.
Frankie, as if aware he was being watched suddenly looked up and caught Peano staring down at him. He laughed and waved. Peano waved back and grimaced a smile. His dark olive eyes glistened in the half- light, tears forming as he leaned against the door, his ears not hearing the loud knocking of those wanting admittance.
“When you watch lovers on the dance-floor, Bro, dancing to a slow number, they never smile, do they? They just stare right serious into each others eyes.”
Frankie smiled at the memory of his brother’s voice, now knowing what his elder brother meant.
The light was out and Frankie was only aware of the perfume that scented the room, aware to of the blue eyes which gazed into his. They had taken each other in young love. Rita had loved him with all her heart. Frankie had loved her with all his body and young animal passion. The feelings he felt worried him.
Secretly, they stole away from the party, creeping up the stairs and only Peano watched them go, his eyes hateful. He groaned, dismissing the loud banging at the door.