Thursday, February 17, 2011
Siren In The Shadows (red COFFEE Chapter 3)
All of the usual girl who leaves home stories were coming out of her but I tried to act compassionate and concerned. It was hard, though. A Norwegian farm girl from Wisconsin who ran away from home because her parents had railroaded her into some pre-arranged wedding that was going to get them a couple of hundred extra acres of farmland, dozens of healthy milk cows and a land baron twenty years her senior. Add to that uncles who made her take off her skirt and bend over the bed rail. If it was true I felt sorry for her, if they were lies I felt even sorrier for her.
“I was milkin’ the cows from dusk to dawn an’ when I came in from the cold Uncle Holveg would make me go to the bedroom and pull down my skirt”, Vi would breathlessly tell me, frightened blue eyes pinning me down. “The awful things he made me do, it made me wish I was back in the barn with the animals”.
“That dirty rat, takin’ advantage of a sweet kid like you”, I said, finishing up my scrambled eggs.
“I hated the farm so much”, Vi testified, “to this day I cannot keep down a glass of milk, a plate of eggs or even a heel of ham”.
“You poor thing”, I pushed my plate of half-finished eggs towards her, not realizing it was making her gag. I lit an after-dinner cigarette, which made her gag even further.
“My father”, she continued, getting paler and paler, “bought tobacco before he gave me money for a new pair of stockings. I didn’t see a fresh new pair of stockings until I came to de big city”.
“That’s a tough break, Vi”, I added, picking tobacco off my lipstick. “But you’re workin’; eatin’ and your tushie hasn’t been horse-whipped in over a year. You made good!”
“And they shaved my head until I was thirteen years old, I didn’t know what long hair looked like until then.”
“Lookit, Vi, I gotta run. Want me to chaperone you home?”
“No thanks, I’m waiting for my date. We’re going to The Casbah Room,and –“
“Hiya, Squarehead”, a big guy with a smelly cigar hanging out of his mush shoved over to our table. He turned and stared at me appraisingly. “Ready ta go? Wanna bring your tall blonde friend?”
“No”, she answered hurriedly, “she has places to go to. She hates nightclubs, anyway”.
“Awww, that’s too bad, ya know I can be a lot of fun if you give me a tumble”, he grunted, reminding me of Wallace Beery at his hairiest, sweatiest and smelliest.
“My loss”, I fake laughed. I glanced at Vi who was shooting me a dirty look.
“Maybe next time, Toots”, he took out his stogie, licking his wet lips.
“Ja, ja, next time”, Vi bum rushed.
Brother, now I’ve seen everything, getting the heave-ho by a milkmaid for a greasy bus driver. I couldn’t get out of the diner fast enough.
I grabbed a taxicab to take me back to my temporary digs in Hollywood , and got out with my keys at the ready to hit Mister Bradley’s apartment. I stopped on the sidewalk and heard some loud big band music roaring out of a saloon door. The swinging doors in the front had tiny portholes on them, looking like eyes opening and winking every time a door would swing open.
The lights inside looked warm and the music sounded lively and seductive, swinging with confidence. I walked towards the bar, stopped, walked slowly back to the apartment building entrance, then stopped again, staring at the bar a few feet away. I finally lumped it and went upstairs to the loft and made myself at home. I fixed a highball and set it on the cutting table, almost bumping into the tailor’s forms, gently pushing them away. “I can be a lot of fun if you give me a tumble”, I mocked the jerk from the diner.
“Ay yum yoost a little girl from Wees-con-scene”, I put a brassiere on my head, imitating a bashful farm girl, “Meester Dirty I weel milk de cows fer you, make cheese too”. I curtsied in front of a mannequin with a tuxedo draped over it. “We eat butter for da breakfast. I pick up de milk”, I grabbed two hat boxes, pretending they were buckets of milk. “Ya, eggs make me puke, liebschen. Phooey!” I heard laughter outside my window.
I threw the brassiere off my head, raced to the window and pushed the curtains aside and looked out to the front of The Screen Test bar. A tall, young sailor with dark hair was lighting up a cigarette and looking at the sign, mumbling, “The Screen Test”, laughing to himself. He was too good looking to be wearing a uniform. I knocked back my highball, freshened up my makeup, and ran downstairs.
The bar was dark but clean, at least cleaner than most Hollywood joints. I walked by the sailor whose friendly demeanor was already gone. He was arguing with two scruffy-looking men at the bar. I tried to eavesdrop on what the beef was about, but every time I got a few words out a damn trumpet would cut in, screeching at ear-piercing levels from the juke box. I took a booth towards the back and ordered a rye highball from the innkeeper. Leaning slightly in the direction of the bar, this is what I heard:
“BADa-WADA-Bee-BOP-“ “Laws against-“ “REE-bOP-Do-WEE-“
“Doo-BOP-SHA-BAM-“ “-Turnin’ yella?” “-Fa Dop-DEE-DO-YA-“
“It ain’t legal-“ “JI-Jamm- Splow- DEE -YO-“
“Bi-DOO-baM-Skee-ZOCK-“ “-don’t cross us, hear-“
Between the drum’s sizzling cymbals, migraine snare drums and the shrieking of jungle trumpets and trombones, I could barely make out anything, with the sailor annoyingly waving them off, walking towards my booth. I smiled up at him.
“Waiting for somebody?” He asked. “I could sure use some company right now”.
“Company sounds grand”, I said.
“Can a sailor front you a drink?”
“It’s coming right now”, I pointed at the barkeep bringing my highball. He and the sailor exchanged irritable looks. “Easy, boys, let’s call a maritime truce”.
“I’ll have one of those”, he pointed at the drink, and put his other hand over my beaded purse. “Put your dough away, Miss, I’m paying for the drinks tonight”.
“Thanks, I’m Lois, unwinding from a big day of wearing itchy clothes that don’t fit”, I lifted my glass as a toast.
“Machinist First Class Darby Wells, and you have my sympathy wearing itchy clothes. I have enough starch in my uniform to make it stand up and salute”, he smiled. His drink reached our table and he peeled off a sawbuck.
“You have my sympathy”, I sipped my drink. I looked at his patch with the propeller and stripes. “A toast to terrible uniforms”.
“Here here!” he grinned and downed his drink in one shot. “After three months o’ starin’ at green suds I’ve been achin’ to look at some gold suds instead. Hey, you’re not much of a drinker, are you?”
“No, I guess not”, I caught him looking back at the guys by the bar. “Not compared to you. Do you know those guys?”
“Yeah, kinda”, he half-smiled at me trying to shake off his anger, “just a coupl’a mugs I knew from Tulsa where I grew up. Tryin’ to get me to join in on some crazy scheme. Well, they got another think comin’, this salt keeps his schnozz clean, you got me?”
“Positively”, I mumbled. “You’re like a Boy Scout”.
He laughed, “Hell yeah, why not? You’re like a mermaid, blonde and pretty”.
“What makes you think I’m a mermaid? For all you know I could be a siren”.
"Not a chance, I know your type. You wouldn’t hurt a fly”.
“Fair enough, you got me to rights”, I got up and grabbed my purse. “I hate to drink and run, King Neptune, but I gotta get up early in the morning and pose for an old French photographer”.
“That’s a tough break”, he looked disappointed. “Can I see you again? We can hit an Italian spaghetti place and make a night of it”. It sounded corny but he was good with the looks and didn’t get all grabby like a lot of guys.
“That would be swell. Let’s see, Friday night, I’ll meet you out in front around six thirty”.
“Well, Lois, until then”, he picked up my napkin and sniffed it blissfully. “Thanks for the souvenir!”
I laughed, “You’ve been sniffin' that salty ocean air too long”.
The next morning I sat in front of the mirror having my hair done, yawning every thirty seconds, listening to the hairstylist complaining about the awful drivers on the road, the terrible service in diners, and how a good man is hard to find. I couldn’t vouch for the first two details but I could write a book about the third one.
Another model sat down beside me waiting to have her hair done and placed her paper on the vanity table.
“Dear, take that filthy newsprint off my work station”, the stylist whined, “Those things are just full of germs!”
“Alright, alright, take it easy”.
As she moved the paper from the table I saw a familiar face smiling at me from the bottom of the front page. Very familiar.
“Hey, can I see that?”
“Just for a second”, she had her back up. “It’s the Morning Edition, I just got it so don’t put any wrinkles on it”.
The headline above the photo read, “SAILOR FOUND DEAD IN PARK”. I froze, feeling pale while my hair was getting tugged.
“Hey, it’s no big deal, I was just kidding. Are you gonna be alright?”