top of page

Breakup in Five Scenes and Two Ghosts

by Diane McGee

1.  Stanhope Hotel, August, 1988

Just one

eyelids open

she’d feigned sleep as her ex rose in the dark showered groomed and dressed

(she accounting to the second the assiduous applications to hair skin the critical assessment in the

mirror reflected back at him)

his stealthy reentry from the bath waft of fresh wash suffusing

(she marking) the slowww

zip of luggage an effort to contain the sound that couldn’t wake her since she already was

her squirm beneath the covers a pretense of near waking a ruse

(deceiving him she thinks holding back bitter tasting laugh)

he draws near leans over stops reconsiders retreats

door opens click


he has slunk off

to another coast



it is morning


through window tall trapezoid light cascades

motes dance therein she rises mesmerized enters them

standing naked at the warming pane

head tilts eyes close her pale face receives the sun

welcoming this blooming epiphany

a new day


eight floors up from the courtyard

where against the concrete pad a pj’d phantom lies

a failed search for flight

five stories fallen

being only human

on the way down half-expecting

wings to sprout

oopsie that's not happening

instead a reckoning of reckless days

decadence haze ecstasy infamy

Happy Valley reaches up opens swallowing

everyone who touched her one by one

look there’s companion Lillian

entering her room mug of milk in hand


the open window

curtains moving

frozen knowing

this bird had flown


just before she crashes in the court

her life’s pursuit of lift-off

hits her

a tragic comedy[1]

one flight below a balcony abuts a lead-glassed
garret out of place and time
within an easel with a canvas
work in progress she thinks
a smile breaks

her late arrival and precedent events having blinded her
she now appraises her surroundings
large lush dressed bed dense pile underfoot round draped fringed table chinoiserie chests
painted branches blossoming across walls mantle with vase effusing peonies roses ginger greens
forest field lavish not ostentatious

sudden seizure
appetite returned from long lost expedition
she falls on the bed linens razor hips carving down canyons in them
menu opus in hand
everything sounds delicious everything sings sustenance saving cadenzas
she lifts receiver room service answers
decisions elude her she orders everything one of everything
done up she jumps
runs to the bath to shower
to wash down the drain
             through the pipes to the sewer
                                        into the Hudson River
                                                                  out to the vast Atlantic
                                                                                                                               the last traces
of wrecked intimacy

wet haired swaddled in white folds queening on the bed in the sun
a knock
room service arrives cart wheels in
server in morning dress straight-faced every hair in place
withdraws the chair for her she sits napkin flips the barest scent of shampooed hair wicks nostrils
silver-domed flourish
lids lift one by one
truffled scrambled eggs
the sausage
the toast
Irish oatmeal
warmed bagel
berries yoghurt crème-fresh preserves
dairy cream cheese butter

he inquires
how many places to be set


just one
she replies

he simply nods
no surprise where money’s no object

down the hall she runs

wild escapee of the euro clan

shooting her pistol just for fun


she can 

management frowned 

please they asked just leave the hallway lights alone

okay she said and off she went



daring darling of the cool cool

in her be-bop Bentley driving round

midnight as it were ’til dawn 

management frowned

as in the front she brought them

to jam and crash

the black and brown


not so much defiance of convention 

rather devotional


the care of jazz men

her beat

a calling

as free France fighting had been

one gives all one can to the end[2]

unblinking server coffee pours

a perfect arc from spout to gold-rimmed cup

inquires after further needs




none desired server and cart depart

table laden she reaches for a fork

and like a prisoner finally freed

starts to feed

2.   Six Weeks Before


a woman thin blonde sweat-drenched
paper-wrapped carcass across both arms
eyes the transom eight steps up from the sidewalk you could fry an egg on
enters the little double-doored foyer into
hoped-for relief instead a sauna’s heat
for another door three steps up window lace-shielded locked
bars passage

on the walk across the park her offering defrosted
so now half-baked smoldering stench reeling
she leans in
nose-close to mail slots’ dymo-tape oracles
the one

five flights descending
onto the landing another alighting spying
through lace backlit silhouette in the foyer
BLAM divination
this (emphatic) innocent friendship (he claimed) because he knew her jealousy
photographs letters hidden justifiably from
her distrust unjust justifying his retreat (and now) her invasion of his privacy
beyond forgiving

yet despite her breach his being wronged and all the weeks he’d
struggled since his return (as had those months away) ever still remaining true
he loved her


door flies open woman with fish asks for her intended answered stinking fish extends [3]

in his eyes
arriving perspiring frantic late to therapy
she’d seen desire to come clean
blind drawn
a killer’s calm

wanting to believe him
she believed him

“He’s not in”

3.  Later, That Night

she sits at the parson’s table facing off the bottle of not-Beaujolais Nouveau
down the hall his snoring

up Third down Second he’d dragged her
in and out the air-con’d sanctum of each bright-lit liquor store
the neatly clipped wine review unfolding and refolded
a floundering recoupling this misguided field trip
his unyielding trudging on
his mission so important not her not what he’d done…

“He’s not in he’ll be home soon I’m going to the market you can come”
Fish Woman suspicious but goes along
before block’s end truth unstated known

eternity is a deli-case
scoop de doop plastic-gloved tub by tub how long
“Are you just friends?” Fish Woman asks lids press on
stupid slow cashier what the fuckingfuck tossing down a twenty on rubber belt flying out
engulfed in heat resisting urge to melt
one foot the other
“This is why women havta stick together” (Fish Woman breathless catches up)
Fuck you thinks the other not the other   

newsstand bodega front page in your face
wind whipped street creased roiling in the gutter
irony on endless loop scores desire’s scree
scooting into buildings slipping into elevators
taken together


it’s my home the answer
eight steps up only way to truth
she lets them in

what was she to him no more than a failure of infatuation? [4]

five flights up
man new made
emerges towel-wrapped fresh-bathed disaster evaded new leaf turned no harm done and

there they stand

he jerks a non-existent watch on wrist bad time a freckle his informs

“We know John”

…sleeping soundly down the hall night-cap downed
he sleeps deep the sleep of crisis done self-preservation won  
he dreams
while she stares blankly at the bottle of finally acquiesced-to not-Nouveau
replaying back to the beginning
seeing all


4.  Gaslit



5.  Yet This, 1986


Time: Morning Season: Autumn Place: opposite Lincoln Center Exact Place: the tiny island

between the crosswalks where Columbus and Broadway meet and pass

in sort of an X

on it a couple who had tried to run the light propulsion joy springing for it

but the light was shorter than they’d thought so now they’re captive on that nearly too-small

triangle the rush of traffic hair-raising whooshing past whipping strand in mouth

just forces them to cling closer which of course no problem there

they are on their way to hear the famous maestro in rehearsal in Avery Fisher Hall

traffic blurs ‘round them they’re in perfect focus he enclosing her protective strong bending in

she tilts up chin to meet his lips the world stops time suspends


LOVE fills frame


[1] Kiki Preston (1898-1946), aka The Girl with the Silver Syringe, notorious in her youth for her pansexual, celebrity affairs and exhibitionistic drug use, ended her life jumping from her fifth floor suite in the Stanhope.

[2] Pannonica de Koenigswarter, (1913-86) aka the Be-bop Baroness, was an aristocrat, Resistance fighter, and devoted jazz patron. Residing at the Stanhope from 1951-55, she was asked to vacate following Charlie Parker’s demise in her suite.

[3] Woman with Fish became the visiting professor’s lover during his Alaskan residency. A suspect shift in the ardor of his correspondence some weeks after his return to the lower 48 prompted her to appear, salmon in tow, at his door.

[4] Rumors of married Bruce Springsteen’s infidelity with his bandmate spawned a tabloid frenzy on the New York leg of the Tunnel of Love Tour. Paparazzi caught the lovers exiting the Westbury on Fifth, south of the reliably discrete Stanhope.

Diane McGee is a writer, editor, and performance artist who has developed projects for film and theater. She is currently engaged in a Master's program exploring alternate forms of storytelling. Her work has appeared in the British Columbia Review and the Catamaran Literary Reader; the story in Catamaran was nominated for the 2023 PEN Dau Award for Emerging Short Story Writers.

bottom of page