The Lion of Times Square by Phyllis Norrie
And do you remember Mummy, in my dream the big green monster was chasing me, then The Lion of Times Square ran across the rooftop and I jumped onto his back and he leapt off the roof onto the big glowing crystal ball. And the ball slid down a pole with the lion hanging on by its giant claws and me hanging onto its back. And I wasn’t a bit frightened Mummy.”
Eleanor smiled. “And when I looked up, Mummy, do you remember, you had your hands pressed to your face and you looked terrified and I waved at you. And when we got down the pole there were masses of people at the bottom. A big man in a black overcoat put me onto his shoulders and everyone started cheering. And when I looked around the lion had vanished. But it saved me from the monster. Then you came and took me from the big man and cuddled me in your arms and we went back into the hotel. Do you remember, Mummy?”
“No, darling. I wasn’t in your dream.”
“You were, Mummy, you were. I saw you. You were on the rooftop and you cuddled me better.”
“Well, that’s nice Daniel. But it was only a dream, something that happened inside your head. I wasn’t really there. It’s a sort of make believe.”
“You can’t say that because I saw you. You were on the rooftop, watching me.”
Daniel’s face was flushing bright red and his breathing was becoming erratic.
“All right darling,” said Eleanor, trailing her cool hand across his forehead. “I think I do remember. You were very brave, jumping on the lion’s back like that. Now, settle down and get some sleep.”
“Read me The Lion of Times Square again, please, Mummy.”
“No, Daniel. You need to get some rest.”
“Is there really a giant crystal ball in Times Square?” “You know there is.” “Tell me again.” Eleanor laughed at Daniel’s bedtime delaying tactics. “On New Year’s Eve, crowds of people travel to Times Square in New York. On
top of the big flagpole in the square is a giant ball made of sparkling crystal triangles. At six o’clock the ball is switched on, sending a starburst of bright colours all over the square. At one minute to midnight the ball is lowered down the flagpole and everyone counts down the numbers until the ball reaches the bottom of the pole, exactly at midnight. Then everyone cheers and they all wish one another a Happy New Year.”
“Can we go, Mummy, can we? Can we go to Times Square to see in the New Year with the crystal ball?”
“We’ll think about it nearer the time.” “Promise, Mummy.” “Promise. Now, time you were asleep.”
Eleanor tucked the glossy picture book, with the lion sliding down the flag pole, underneath Daniel’s pillow secure in the thought The Lion of Times Square was Daniel’s hero, his comforter.
On New Year’s Eve, immersed in his duties as Maître d’ of the Rooftop Restaurant, of one of the tallest hotels in Times Square, Emmanuel chivvied his staff to complete the final touches for the New Year’s Eve Dinner.
He turned to be confronted by a woman in a red dress with a mass of blonde curls. Her soft voice filtered through the noise. “Can you tell me how to get out onto the rooftop?”
“I’m afraid guests are not allowed on the rooftop.”
“I just want to take some photos of Times Square before the celebration begins and the New Year’s Eve Ball is lowered down the flagpole.”
“You can take your photos from the window. It looks out onto Times Square.”
“No, I really need to go out onto the roof. Please. There is something important I have to do for a very special little boy.”
“Oh, you want to take a photograph for your little boy?”
Eleanor brightened. “Yes,” she said, “his favourite book is The Lion of Times Square.”
Emmanuel laughed, “Oh, I read that to my son, over and over again.”
Eleanor pushed her advantage, “Yes, Daniel just loves that book. And a photo of the real New Year’s Eve Ball would be something to treasure. All that beautiful flashing crystal.”
Emmanuel was now fully drawn in, “And you could superimpose a lion on the sliding ball on Photoshop.”
“Oh, I’m not really that au fait with computers.” “I could do it for you.” “Thank you,” said Eleanor, “That’s very kind of you. But I need a really good photo first.”
“All right,” smiled Emmanuel, “I’ll escort you onto the roof now and you can take a photo. Then if you come up before midnight you can take another photo from inside. We can’t let guests outside at midnight for health and safety reasons.”
“I understand,” said Eleanor. Emmanuel led the way, Eleanor took some shots, thanked him and left the restaurant.
At five minutes to midnight, Eleanor took the elevator to the floor below the restaurant. She climbed the stairs and tip-toed into the restaurant, keeping close to the wall, feeling guilty for tricking Emmanuel into showing her the way onto the rooftop. But she had to do this one thing.
The restaurant was buzzing with the roar of celebration; every waiter engaged doling out champagne ready for the midnight toast. Eleanor pushed on the heavy fire escape door.
Emmanuel felt some vague presence behind him and turned to see Eleanor halfway through the open door. He flushed with anger. She was throwing his kindness back in his face. He yelled: “Hey lady, stop.”
As Eleanor leant sideways onto the door Emmanuel could see she was clutching something to her chest; probably her camera and what looked like its holdall dangling from her hand.
Someone shouted to Emmanuel: “The New Year’s Eve Ball is about to start its descent.” He raised a finger and nodded. Fear fizzed through him. What if Eleanor stumbled in the dark and injured herself?
Emmanuel rushed onto the rooftop but was stopped in his tracks. There was Eleanor who should be shivering in the spiky
headed for the door but caught his foot on the grating.
Startled by the noise, Eleanor turned.
“I’m sorry, so sorry,” called Emmanuel. “I wasn’t spying but health and safety, I …”
“No, It’s me who should apologise,” said Eleanor. “I know I could get you into a great deal of trouble.”
Emmanuel shrugged. Eleanor’s face crumpled, “My little boy, Daniel, he had cerebral palsy. He died just before Christmas. He loved The Lion of Times Square and it gave him so much joy. Scattering his ashes as the crystal ball made its descent is such a wonderful tribute for him.”
Emmanuel nodded, his eyes glistening, as he gently ushered Eleanor back inside the restaurant. cold of the New York winter, yet seemed to be surrounded by a strange, warm presence. She was pulling the top off something which wasn’t a camera. And as she walked towards the waist-high wall encasing the rooftop, snow suddenly began cascading down.
Emmanuel stood, mesmerised. Eleanor lifted what he could now see was a marble jar and hurled handfuls of dust into the midnight air in the direction of the New Year’s Eve Ball, slowly descending the pole, its myriad colours glowing through the snowy haze.
“Well, here I am my beautiful little boy,” Eleanor called in a calm clear voice, “and here you are too. I think this is the best place in the whole world for you to be.”
The wind rose and as the dust drifted out through her slender fingers it began to piggy back on the snow flakes drifting down into Times Square.
“Goodbye, my brave darling, I love you so very much,” she called, as each furl of dust took its turn on the snowflake ride. She blew into the jar and the last few dregs floated up around her face, tickling her nose and causing her to sneeze.
Then Eleanor’s voice swelled into the air, “Happy New Year, my beautiful Daniel. You see, I kept my promise to bring you to Times Square to see the count down of the crystal ball on New Year’s Eve.”
As the noise and bustling energy of the crowds rose up to the rooftop and the video screens flashed out their giant-sized pictures, Eleanor opened a small plastic bag. “I know, my little darling, you would want The Lion of Times Square to be with you, wherever you are now, so here he comes.” Then she cast the glossy cut-up squares of the book out into the midnight sky and watched them swing down. “Hurry, You’ll just catch him,” she called.
Simultaneously, the crystal ball reached the bottom of the flagpole, marking midnight, and noisy cheers rose from the crowd. “Right on cue,” cried Eleanor.
Emmanuel was seized with guilt witnessing this very private moment. He turned quietly and