Monday, March 29, 2010

A Night Of Love-a short story

A Night of Love
“So what’s going down Lieutenant? Have you figured out where we’re going yet?”
Lieutenant Richard Blithe pulled his service cap down lower to his eye line, hiked up the collar to his overcoat, and took a drag of his Chesterfield cigarette. His blue eyes pierced the street in front of him. He scanned left and right, looking for a sign, anything. All around him the crowds pushed as people dodged one another, their breath pluming out over their heads in little white wisps. A sea of people moving in unison, packed like sardines. He contemplated if he’d ever seen that many people before. Three soldiers, all in dress uniform like himself, stood behind him, eagerly awaiting their next move.
“Come on Rich, where we headed?”
He turned and looked at the man. Sergeant Fink was a tiny man, only about five foot five, but he was built like a man who could carry himself. His southern accent was thick and heavy, his skin tanned to leather. He took a drag of his Lucky Strike cigarette and rubbed a hand over his five o’clock shadow.
“Shut up.” Richard replied.
He looked back down the street, finishing his cigarette and putting his hands in his pockets. For April is wasn’t that warm, the temperature had stayed between forty and fifty degrees, dropping into the thirties at night. One of the other soldiers, a Private named O’Rourke, was catcalling ladies and striking out.
“What is it with these dames?” he said.
His voice still somewhat high pitched, with a slight hint of a Boston accent. He was only nineteen, the youngest of the group.
“They can tell you’re going fishin Mike.” The fourth soldier, a fellow Lieutenant, William Killroy, piped up.
The men chuckled and Richard spotted a group of sailors coming up the sidewalk towards them. His six foot three frame easily looking over the heads of the moving crowd. When they got close he stopped the first sailor, a private.
Even though the private, his red hair sticking out from under his cap, was obviously drunk he managed to stand at partial attention and address the Lieutenant in a proper fashion.
“Where ya headed?”
“A juke joint up ahead a few blocks sir.”
“You know of any other places? Somewhere a little more classy?”
“Place called Molly’s around the corner, bout two blocks back that away.”
“Thank you.”
He motioned for his group to follow him. The two groups of soldiers nodded at each other as they passed, navy blue against olive drab. Measuring ranks and the man as they did. As he walked down the sidewalk he noticed how the women would smile and the men would nod their heads. His steps got a little tighter, his shoulders moved back and his chest puffed out. Feet pounded the pavement with purpose. He felt like he was invincible. Like the dress uniform of the United States Army was a shield that no bullet could penetrate. He pulled out another Chesterfield and lit it smoothly, flicking the lighter open and closed as he walked, listening to the metallic clinks.
He heard the club before he saw it. Jazz music filtered out into the cool air, drifting with the breeze, it seemed the temperature raised a few degrees and everyone on the street seemed to have a bounce in their step. He rounded a corner and saw the dim lights that signified the presence of a club. He walked up to the front door and entered quickly, the rest of the men following close behind. A woman greeted him at the entrance and he removed his hat.
“Welcome to Molly’s fellas.”
She scanned the group. Her eyes lingering a little too long on O’Rourke.
“Hey old are you big boy?”
A giant grin broke out on the privates face, lifting the freckles on his cheeks and showing the youth in his eyes. He shifted his feet weight back and forth on his feet..
“I’m nine…”
“He’s twenty one.” Richard interjected as smooth as silk.
The door girl looked at him, then back at O’Rourke.
“That right?”
“Yes ma’am.”
“Well you boys have a good night then.”
They walked past her and into the club. Instantly the temperature seemed like it had risen twenty degrees. Richard returned the cap back to his head and removed his jacket. Without looking he knew the soldiers at his heels were doing the same. He took in the club, listening to the sound of Vaughn Monroe’s “When the Lights Go On Again.”
All the tables were covered in white, small candles made up a centerpiece that provided just enough illumination to see a persons face. The dance floor was large but relatively empty with a stage taking up a good portion of the rear of the room. Each individual member of the band, clad in white suits, sat behind their own partition (which was also white and featured a bold, vibrant M on the font) while the lead singer stood out in front, like a gladiator. People seemed to be milling about, enjoying each others company, weaving in and out of the multiple pillars that lined the inside of the room like some Greek revival. They gathered under chandeliers and clinked glasses in unison, toasting to life and love. He felt the guys behind him begin to shift toward the bar and made his way with them, pouncing on a barstool closest to the dance floor and grinding out his cigarette in a glass ashtray that featured the name of the bar in the center. The bartender, an elderly man with a mass of grey hair on his head and a slight limp waddled over to them and smiled.
“What’ll it be boys?”
As he went down the line Richard pulled out his cigarettes and lighter and set them out on the bar next to him, carefully placing the lighter in the exact center of the pack. He slid it over a little so that anyone who walked up to his left, to the space where there were no stools, would see it as they approached the bar for a drink. A little tip he’d learned when trying to pick up women. Finally the bartender got to him and asked what he wanted to drink in a loud, assertive voice.
“Three fingers of Three Feathers, light on the ice, no water and a beer, Budweiser.” The bartender looked at him, smiled, and shuffled away.
“Jesus Rich, you would think you’ve been to your fair share of bars.” William whispered in his ear on his right.
“I have.” he answered, “We have.”
The two men looked at each other and laughed. William took off his hat and placed it on the bar, his blonde hair was tussled and he swiftly fixed it with a few passes of his hand. Richard did the same, only the hand went through dark brown hair.
“How about this huh? Ever think you’d be in New York City?” William asked.
“If you had asked me a year ago I would have told you no.”
The bartender set their drinks in front of them and William raised his to Richard.
“To Ewing, Virginia.”
“To Ewing.”
“Hey, you bastards going to cheer without involving us?”
They looked at Fink and nodded, turning to face him.
“Come here boy.”
Fink grabbed O’Rourke off his stool and slid him in beside him. He admired the situation. The four of them, ready to go to war, enjoying the life they would soon leave behind.
“To the United States of America, to finding some single ladies, to the United States Army, to putting my knife in Hitler’s fucking throat.” Fink blurted out.
His accent making America sound like Amurica and fucking sound like fecking. The statement, declared rather boldly, received looks by those nearby but the men didn’t care. They all smiled, clinked glasses, and drank to the toast. Letting the alcohol burn down their throats and warm their bellies. As soon as they drank Fink spotted two ladies sitting alone near the front window, he grabbed O’Rourke around the shoulders and guided him that way.
“Have you heard anything from Molly?” Richard asked.
“Not since we left for basic.”
“She’ll come around Will. She loves you.”
“What’s love Rich? If she loved me she wouldn’t have left me.”
William lowered his eyes and seemed to study the glass in front of him. As if he admired the amber contents within. The two men sat there like that until their attention returned to Fink and O’Rourke, now sitting with the ladies by the window. Richard watched William squint his eyes, the almost jade like green penetrating out the paned window of the club.
William turned slowly and cupped Richard on the arm.
“I need a shot friend.”
Richard stood up, covering his cigarettes with his hat, and patted Will on the back heartily.
“Going to find a restroom.”
As he moved he found himself catching the rhythm of Johnny Mercer’s “One for My Baby.” Gliding around people in his path and silently sliding his feet across the hardwood floor. He rounded a corner and entered the bathroom where a black man stood in a tuxedo in the corner.
“Evening Officer.” The black man said.
Richard stepped into a stall and called out to the man.
“How did you know I’m an officer?”
“Oh I’ve gotten pretty good at that. See many an officer come in here. You’re a lieutenant right?”
Richard smiled to himself. “That’s right.”
“Right again.”
He exited the stall and began to wash his hands. During which the man brought over a bar of soap, a white towel with the letter M in the center. Then he promptly returned to his spot in the corner, behind some kind of little metal stand armed with a variety of vanities.
“I wanted to say thank you sir. I believe men like you are the reason we’re a proud nation.”
“Thank you.”
He handed the man a quarter and wondered secretly how many times the man had said that exact same line. If he was to guess he would say that same man had likely fooled a hundred soldiers. Maybe more.
“Would you like some cologne? Perhaps a breath mint?”
“No thanks.”
Richard made his way back to the bar, stopping briefly to see the increase in the population of the room. He noticed that the men greatly outnumbered the women. Most of the women, like the men, were older…more than likely married. Of the younger variety many of the women stood next to soldiers like himself, the buttons of their dress uniforms polished to perfection. He began to debate if they had come to the right place. As he neared the bar he saw that O’Rourke and Fink had returned with their newly acquired dates. Fink stood next to his, a woman in her early twenties, hair pulled up in a bun, she seemed to be average in every way…nothing wrong with that. His hand was resting gently on her lower back while the other played with a beer on the bar. O’Rourke on the other hand seemed greatly outmatched. The thin apparition of a man didn’t look like he stood a chance. She was older, probably in her early thirties, she looked strict and had an aura of being self absorbed. The young soldier would put his hand on her thigh only to have it quickly brushed away, while all of his attention was on her she seemed to be bored and as such constantly looked around. William, on the other hand, had two ladies with him, one of which was sitting in Richards seat. He walked up casually and saw that the woman had moved his hat and was currently smoking one of his cigarettes. On the approach William noticed him and smiled.
“You boys certainly don’t waste any time.” Richard said.
“Rich, this here is Kathryn and Florence.”
Richard looked them over. The lady that was currently occupying Williams attention was young and highly attractive, tall, with black hair, he could tell though that she was shopping for soldiers. It wasn’t necessarily a “look” so much as an attitude. For someone she had just met she was very close and touchy. Practically sitting in Wills lap she also had a hand tucked in at his hip. Her dress was up to date and flashy…too shiny and glossy for Richards taste, and her hair was cut too short for his liking. The woman in his seat looked much the same only her hair was piled around her face in thick blonde curls. Her figure slightly more boyish.
“I hope you don’t mind, I took one of your cigarettes.”
“No…I don’t mind.”
In truth, he did. Not because she was smoking one, but that she had done so without asking. He put a mental note aside that this was a lady that was used to getting what she wanted. Richard took to standing at the spot next to her and re-arranged his cigarettes much as he had the first time, only on the opposite side from her. He finished his beer and signaled to the bartender that he needed another round.
“You going to buy me a drink soldier?”
Richard looked to the lady, Florence, and smiled…albeit a fake smile.
“What are you having?”
“A Hurricane.”
“What’s that?”
“A new drink, ask the bartender, he should know what it is.”
When the bartender returned with his beer he asked him for the hurricane and the man nodded.
“So, Willy tells us you’re going to Europe.”
Richard almost choked on his beer.
“Your friend.”
He let out a chuckle and then nodded, “Yes, we’re going to Europe.”
“Well that’s exciting.”
Florence flashed him another smile and he, again, returned it with the fake one. Kathryn leaned over and tapped him on the arm. It wasn’t a gentle tap, but one that demanded recognition.
“Are the four of us going to keep flapping our lips or are we going to dance?”
“I don’t dance.” Richard retorted.
“What’s the matter?” Florence responded, “you a dead hoofer?”
“Something like that.”
The bartender set down the hurricane and Florence eagerly started drinking it. Lips curled around the straw, cheeks sucked in.
“Well forget him then.” Kathryn returned. “How about the three of us dance?”
Apparently this was a good idea because that’s exactly what happened. As the two girls started skipping to the dance floor William hung back a little.
“What’s the matter with you man? You afraid to flip your wig?”
“No Willy. Just not interested.”
“Well aren’t you a yuck.”
He moved after the girls and Richard returned to his seat. He grabbed his beer and started twirling it, watching it until it became a cyclone inside. He took out another cigarette. He started switching the cigarette between fingers and blowing O’s of smoke when the mood hit him. He looked over at O’Rourke and Fink as they sprinted to the dance floor with their dates. Their stools were quickly occupied by newcomers, men in business suits, women in fancy dresses and Richard looked around to realize that the place had rapidly filled up. He ordered another whiskey and spun around on his stool to see the club. He spotted William on the dance floor with the two dates, receiving the envious look of some of his fellow revelers and those that resented the luck of soldiers. He spotted Fink dancing closely with his date, O’Rourke’s was keeping him at arms length. Richard shook his head slowly, poor kid didn’t know he’d already lost. He looked over the officers, many of which were a higher rank then him. Past their dates lined in diamonds and pearls, past the enlisted men who looked out of place and ready to bolt, through the civilians who seemed to regard each and every soldier as their own personal hero, and back to the bar. He was on his third sweep of the room when he caught a glimpse of her. It was a quick glimpse, a simple flash of hair, but it was enough to try and find her. All he had seen was blonde, longer then shoulder length and wavy. He searched the crowd, looking for another glimpse, until noticing the back of four officers. Normally this wouldn’t have caught his attention but it made him wonder why all four of them were focused on one person. They were all a higher rank than him, one of them was a major. He tried shifting in his seat so he could see past them, when that didn’t work he stood up, but then only managed to see the top of her head. He noticed one of the officers reach out and take her hand, then bend over to kiss it, and knew the man was about to leave. Just as the officer started to move, and Richard caught a glimpse of creamy white skin in a black dress with see-through straps, a rather large man stepped in his view.
“Hey pal, move!”
The guy looked over at him and frowned.
“Excuse me.”
“Am I not speaking English? Move.”
“Look buddy, just because you’re in the army…”
“The hell does that have to do with anything? I’m just asking you to move two feet to the right or left. I’ll buy you a shot if you just move.”
Just as Richard stood up another man came up and grabbed the other by the elbow, “Come on Joe, we got a table.”
The fat man, Joe, eyeballed Richard as he walked away. Richard scrambled to see around him and noticed the woman was no longer there. He threw his hands up in the air and spun around on his stool, almost knocking over the drink of the guy next to him. He apologized, an open hand, a whisper of “Easy buddy.“ He lit a cigarette and stuck his cap back on. He had just grabbed his beer when he caught movement in his left peripheral vision. He looked over quickly, barely able to see from under the brim of his hat, and noticed the see-through strap of a woman’s gown. He almost choked on his beer. With the advantage of not having his eyes be seen he traced up her body. She was wearing black heels, the dress seemed to have layers with the bottom stopping just above a set of delicious calves. Working his way up he watched it cinch in at her waist, pink sequins created little emblems that seemed to flow down. A bodice did the work of highlighting her already ample bosom. He kept going…he saw her hands laying on the bar, she tucked her left leg over the right as if to relieve pressure on that foot. She, as he saw it, had a fantastic neckline that worked its way into a strong but smooth jaw. Her lips seemed to almost be in a permanent pout, he glanced at her eyes and saw that they were the type a person could get lost in, a light green, determined, yet playful, with full lashes. Her eyebrows curled at an almost perfect angle, adding to the playfulness, and makeup only succeeded in accentuating her doll-like cheeks. The earrings in her ears hung down to the edge of her jaw line, made of a simple ruby pattern in an intricate design. He quickly realized he was memorizing her. As he glanced back at her he noticed she was staring at him, along with a group of three other female friends behind her. A playful smile flirted across her face that turned into delightful dimples.
Her voice was strong. It wasn’t too high or too low, there was no annoying quality too it, like her eyes it was also playful, a slight childlike lisp to it.
“Hey…would you mind if I had a sip of your beer?”
The smile never left her face. Her eyes had captured him.
“Hello?” she waved a hand in front of him and he snapped back to reality.
“Sorry.” He slid his beer over and she winked.
She lifted it to her lips and he watched her drain it. Her eyes never left his and the friends behind her let out a collective giggle.
“Sorry,” she said, looking at the empty glass, “sometimes I just really want a beer you know. I get tired of the drinks I’m expected to drink.”
“I could get you another if you’d like.”
He was impressed that his voice hadn’t failed him and that he managed to form a complete sentence. She shook her head no and leaned in closer.
“I wouldn’t mind one of these cigarettes though.”
She placed her hand on top of the pack and smiled. The smile lit up her whole face, showing perfect teeth and, once again, those inspiring dimples. If anything, she had been molded by god to be a perfect specimen. It almost seemed like she was laughing, or had a secret no one else knew. Richard looked at the cigarettes and grinned, knowing that was the exact reason why he had positioned them like he did.
He handed her and swiftly lit it, letting the light illuminate her face and pausing to watch her lips curl around the end. She pulled away and blew out a puff of smoke.
“I have to get my unladylike vices out of the way before I regroup.”
He looked at her hand and didn’t see a ring but asked anyway.
“Are you rationed?”
“Rationed.” She laughed. “You could consider me a single lady.”
“Well how about you sit down with me? Have a drink.”
“I can’t…really. You could order me a drink though if you’d like.”
“Whatcha having?”
“A brandy stinger.”
Richard playfully eyeballed her. He felt as if his cheeks were on fire. Sore from constantly smiling.
“And that’s the drink of a lady?”
“Close enough.”
He ordered her drink and they stayed there in silence. Him sitting, her standing. She smoked her cigarette, her hand lazily holding it as if it was a nuisance to have to, and continued to smile at him. It dawned on him to offer his seat, he did, but she declined. He gave a quick glance around the room and realized that every masculine eye within a twelve foot radius was trained on her. The bartender came back with her drink and she finished the cigarette.
“Thanks for the drink.”
She tipped the glass at him and started to walk away. Her little entourage in tow. He gently grabbed her by the elbow and turned her towards him.
“At least let me get your name…”
She paused, looked giddily to the side and bit her lip. She seemed to be thinking about it before she returned her attention back to him.
“Ummmm no.”
He removed his hand and she started to walk away again.
“Give me something…anything.” He called to her.
“I’ll be back for another cigarette in a bit.” She said and walked away.
Her hips moved to the rhythm of the music, that walk that only a woman of confidence can do. As she moved through the crowd he realized that the song playing was “Pistol Packin’ Mama” by Al Dexter…he wondered if the song fit.
Richard turned around and faced the bartender, who, like the half a dozen other men had watched her walk away.
“Don’t see too many dames like that.” He said, as he threw his towel back over his shoulder.
“I think I need another beer.” Richard said.
He lit a cigarette and looked down at the one she had put out, a soft red ring around the end from her lipstick. He had just gotten his beer when William came back up, the two women clinging to his sides.
“You gave up our seats?”
“You weren’t using them.”
William looked at him and grinned. His hair clinging to his forehead with sweat.
“Right, you want to take a shot? These ladies would like a shot.”
“No thanks.”
The three of them took their shots about the time Fink and O’Rourke showed up with their dates. Or, well, Fink with his and O’Rourke’s most assuredly not at his side.
“We’re thinking of hitting another club.” Fink said. “Some one striper just told me about a swinging place up the ways a bit.”
Richard looked around the room and saw the lady talking to the major. She was laughing, and kept placing a hand on his forearm. He swallowed hard and looked at Fink.
“I think I’m going to stick around for a bit. Y’all go ahead, I’ll catch up.”
“Suit yourself.”
The group took flight, stunning a few of the more upper class people on the way out as they swayed to the music. Richard sat there, twirling his lighter and staring at the mystery girl. She caught him looking at one point and shot a wink. An older gentlemen started chitchatting with Richard about the army. Asking him questions about his unit, how long he’d been in, if he was going to hand it to the Germans. He answered his questions but his attention was obviously elsewhere. A woman approached him and asked if he would buy her a drink but he politely declined. She was attractive enough and seemed genuinely sweet, but he now only had eyes for one. If he wasn’t paying attention to Miss Mystery he was listening to the music and tapping his feet. Out of nowhere a random memory popped up. It was the day he had decided to enlist with William. The people in the small town had actually heard what they were doing and gathered at the bus station to wish them luck as they headed to the nearest recruiters station. It had seemed the whole town had actually been there, praising them for serving their country and doing their part. It had been Will’s idea to enlist, but everything Will did Richard did as well. They had been inseparable since childhood. Originally they had wanted to join the Navy, but the recruiter told them they were more likely to see action if they joined the Army, not wanting to miss out on the action that is exactly what they did. Richard had just remembered getting a kiss goodbye from a pretty girl named Nancy when he turned back to the bar to order another drink and realized that Miss Mystery was standing next to him, looking at him.
“You army boys sure look spectacular in those green and chocolate uniforms.”
His cheeks flushed and he quickly looked away. He didn’t know why he was nervous. He was never nervous…at least not like this.
“I bet you get all the ladies.”
He swiftly changed the subject, “If I was a betting man I would say you’re here for that cigarette.”
“Actually,” she said, leaning in closer and placing a hand gently on his forearm. He felt the hand, felt the light weight and the warmth coming from it. He could smell her perfume. Simple, not overpowering, it filled his senses. “I was wondering if you could sneak me out of her.”
He looked up at her and found himself lost in her eyes again. The flirtatious smile was back and he felt that if he could melt in the chair he would.
“Where do you want to go?”
“Someplace a little less…rigor. I hear there’s a nice little juke joint a few blocks from here.”
He pointed in the direction the sailors had gone earlier.
“No…that way,” She tilted her head in the opposite direction.
Richard didn’t know his way around so he just nodded. “Anywhere you want.”
“Give me your coat then.”
He handed her his coat and she put it on. It covered her completely, almost longer then the dress she was wearing. He pulled out his wallet, threw down a wad of bills and walked her out the door. When they hit the sidewalk the air slapped him in the face. The temperature change was shocking. He looked out at all the lights of the city, how they reflected off of all the windows like stars. The once busy streets were now merely a trinkle. She asked for a cigarette and he gave her one. He lit it and she smiled. She started walking in a quick, confident stride and he smoothly fell into step alongside her.
“So what’s your name soldier?”
“Richard…Richard Blithe.”
“Blithe…I don’t know many Blithes.”
She slowed her pace down a little as they rounded a corner. A group of sailors in white ran up the street laughing, followed by a smaller group of army enlisted men in various states of disarray, shirts untucked and ties missing. They slowed as they passed him but kept going none the less.
“So what’s your name?”
She gave a little laugh and his heart skipped. He felt like a schoolboy.
“I don’t know, what have you taken to calling me.”
“Miss Mystery.”
“I like that.”
“Oh come on!”
She laughed again and turned around to look at him, walking backwards.
“Now don’t go and snap your cap. What do you think’s going to happen here army man? I’m going to give you my address and you’re going to write to me everyday?”
“I haven’t thought that far ahead.”
She turned back around and darted down an alley. As Richard turned to follow her he saw the entrance to the bar. It was a small place, rundown, he could barely see through the grimy window and noticed that there was a little band playing. As they walked inside he saw the clientele had changed dramatically from the last place. Where the club before had been loud, full of suits and money, this place was relatively quiet scattered with blue collar workers and older enlisted men. An ancient looking sergeant near the door nodded to him and Richard tipped his hat a little.
“I love this place,” she said with glee, “I think it’s killer-diller.”
The band was playing a song called “Star Eyes” by Don Raye. This only confirmed to Richard how much more comfortable this place was then the last. The interaction was less, most of the people came to hang with only a small group or were flying solo. He watched as Mystery hopped up on a bar stool. She took off his jacket and kneeled on the stool, leaning over the bar.
“Hey Sam!” she shouted.
The bartender looked up from the conversation he was having at the other end and started walking towards her.
“I didn’t know trouble was coming in here tonight.”
She kissed the bartender on the cheek as he poured a beer. He handed her the beer, saw Richard, and poured another.
“Who’s your friend?”
“Sam…this is Richard…Richard…this is Sam, one of the coolest cats I know.”
Richard reached over and shook his hand. The bartender seemed to eye him more than usual, as if he already didn’t trust him.
“How much for the beers?”
“This ones on the house.”
Mystery sat all the way down and grinned at him as she took a big gulp of her beer. Richard thought to himself that he had never met anyone like her, in truth, he hadn’t…and he doubted he ever would again.
“You going to tell me your name now?”
She winked then turned to a waitress that was walking by.
“What’s buzzin, cousin?”
The waitress looked at her, then at Richard, then back at her. He felt like everyone was examining him.
“Nothing honey. You seem to be having a better night than me.”
“We’ll see. You know me.”
The waitress continued on her way, scooping empty glasses off of tables in that deft manner that only comes with years of experience.
“Where you from?” Richard asked.
“You’re from New York?”
“All my life.”
He watched her. She didn’t have the look of a typical New Yorker, or so he assumed. Most of the natives seemed to appear bitter, broken.
“What do you do?”
“I’m a Rosie.”
Richard almost spit out his beer.
“You work? I figured you for a student.”
She turned sideways, placing a hand on a hip and tried to give him an angry look that only made her cuter.
“Well aren‘t you just whistling Dixie?”
“Well…look at you.”
“And just what do you mean by that?”
She punched him on the arm and he grinned.
They talked, but for the most part he watched her interact. She appeared to be a regular at the bar. Everyone seemed to know her and they all treated her like their best friend. It seemed she was always smiling. Always. No matter how many times he wanted to look away he couldn’t, he was always brought back by her smile. He found out that she came from a Catholic family with several sisters and one brother. That her father worked in construction and was a foreman on the crews that built skyscrapers. That her brother had enlisted in the marines and was already fighting in the Pacific. He knew that she lived in the city with her roommate and had never driven a car.
“Would you like to dance?”
She looked at him and her eyes sparkled. “Now you’re cooking with gas.”
They got up and moved to the dance floor as Benny Goodman’s “Taking a Chance On Love” started playing. He looked at the band and the front man, an elderly, pleasant looking lack man winked at him. As they danced he slowly ran a hand down her arm, feeling the soft, silky smooth skin. Eventually the hand settled on her hip. With his other hand he kept it in the middle of her back and was able to able to find flesh that he gently stroked with his thumb. Catching her heartbeat and the rhythm of her breathing. She leaned in, placing her head on his chest and squeezing him slightly. He rested his head on top of hers and breathed her in. As they swayed he felt that in a million years he would never forget this moment. Is was as if time had found a perfect moment. He felt her as she breathed in deeply then relaxed in his arms. When the song was over they clapped for the band and then he leaned over and kissed her lips. She was startled at first, backing up a bit, but then she let him. Her lips were soft, smooth, inviting. When he pulled away he looked at her. She was smiling but something was missing, as if a hole had been created.
“What’s wrong? Did I do something wrong?”
She laughed, but the laugh was hollow.
“Of course not. Excuse me, I have to powder my nose.”
She trotted off to the back of the bar and Richard returned to his stool. Sam was making his rounds up and down the bar and he stopped him.
“Did I do something?”
Sam looked at him.
“Did she go to the toilet?”
“Yes sir.”
The bartender shook his head and started wiping off the bar.
“No she didn’t son…she left…out the back door.”
Richard stood up and ran to the back of the bar. He opened the door to the women’s restroom, startling the waitress who was cleaning up for the night. The woman looked off guard, but not shocked.
“Wrong bathroom soldier.”
“Is she in here?”
The lady looked around the restroom quizzically then back at him.
“No one’s in here.”
Richard moved quickly and looked out the rear door but she wasn’t there either. Back in the bar he move with purpose to the bartender.
“What’s her name?”
“If she didn’t tell you that ain’t my place son.”
Richard threw up his hands and pulled his hair as he spun around in a quick circle.
“Can you at least tell me where she lives?”
“Son if I can’t give you her name I sure as hell can’t tell you where she lives.”
Richard threw down a wad of bills in anger and started to storm out the door. As he reached the exit the old sergeant stopped him. He could easily smell alcohol on the man. Richard glared at him.
“Got a cigarette?”
As much as he wanted to just blow past the older soldier he couldn’t do it. He handed him a cigarette and went to squeeze by him but the soldier blocked his path again.
“I don’t know her name…but she lives in Yonkers.”
“How would you know that?”
“Heard her talking about how she hated living there with a friend one night.”
It didn’t come out clear, his voice was thick with alcohol, but he deciphered the meaning.
Richard walked to his hotel as the bars and clubs were closing. He could have hailed a cab but he wanted to think. He couldn’t figure out how he would find her. Yonkers wasn’t a small place. As dates filed out into the streets, arms wrapped around each other in warm embrace, he found himself thinking about her incessantly. Walking cleared his head and he found himself with an idea.
Back at the hotel he wormed his way around Fink, who had passed out on the floor, and O’Rourke, who was unconscious on the floor in the bathroom. He looked at the bed and saw William laying there with three of the women (minus the one O’Rourke had been talking to) in various states of undress. Bottles of champagne littered the floor and several pieces of furniture were overturned. He righted a lamp, then picked up a chair. He positioned the chair so that he could put his feet up on an end table. He didn’t think he would fall asleep but he was out in moments.
He awoke to the sound of a scuffle. Fink and O’Rourke where wrestling around on the floor. He looked at his watch and saw that it was a little after two in the afternoon. William was sitting on the bed. When he saw that Richard was awake he cheered.
“He’s awake boys! Who you betting on Rich? I got a dollar on Fink.”
“Never happen.” Richard replied, rubbing his head, “Sarge has got this one all the way.”
The men continued to wrestle until it was obvious Fink had won, sitting on O’Rourke’s shoulders, pinning him to the ground. Richard got up and grabbed his suitcase, then headed into the bathroom. He shaved, showered, and got dressed in his civilian clothes. Black slacks, a white undershirt, and a light brown button up over shirt. He meticulously fixed his hair, put on his belt, splashed on some cologne, and headed back into the room. The rest of the group were strewn out in various areas.
“What happened to the ladies?”
“Left, this morning.” Fink replied.
“How the hell would you know when they left?” William retorted.
“They stepped on me heading out the door.”
The group laughed.
“Where were you Lieutenant?” O’Rourke asked.
“Talking to a dame. Speaking of which, anyone know anything about the riveters around here?”
The group seemed to laugh in a startled unison of disbelief, only O’Rourke looked at him and frowned, “They work at the General Motors Aircraft place over in Tarrytown.”
Richard looked at him in wonder. “Say what?”
“How far away is that?”
“I don’t know, about thirty miles or so.”
“Will,” Richard said. “I need to borrow your…”
As soon as the words formed on his mouth, heart racing in his chest, William threw his car keys at him.
“You sure buddy? Today’s our last day, you want to spend it searching for a girl?”
“I think she’s worth it.”
“Idiot.” Fink piped in.
“Moron.” William added.
The men laughed and waved at Richard as he headed out the door. He drove like a bat at of hell. Looking out his right he could see the Hudson River the sun glinting off of its surface in ribbons. He wanted to make it to the warehouse before quitting time. In a hurry he had been driving for the first thirty minutes without even knowing where he was going, he eventually stopped and asked directions from a very confused looking gas station clerk. By the time he got there they were locking up the gate. He got out of the car and ran up to the man doing the honors.
“Excuse me sir, do you actually work here.”
“Sure do, what can I help you with?”
The man was stout, but pudgy. The gut of age hanging over his belt. Hands that showed the lines of hard work and manual labor.
“Do you know the Rosie’s?”
“I’d hope so, I’m in charge of em.”
The man quickly put a cigarette in his mouth and lit it with the fluidity of practice.
“I’m looking for one in particular, I don’t know her name.”
“Look son, do you have any idea how many ladies work for me?”
He started walking away, to finish closing up the plant, keys jingling at his waist.
“I think you’d remember her. She’s about 5’3” or 5’4”, yay high,” he put his hand up to his chest, “great figure, blonde hair.”
“I wish I could help you but that only narrows it down by a little. Take a guess how many blondes with figures we got. Everyone of them wants to be a Mae West or Jean Harlow.”
“Ummmm.” Richard thought of something that would give her away. “Light green eyes, dimples, a playful smile?”
“Dimples?” he said as he took a puff of his cigarette. “You’re talking about Ruth. Yeah, she stands out.”
Richard felt like his heart had just stopped. Miss Mystery now had a name, and it was Ruth.
“Ruth? Do you know where she lives?”
“Son, I don’t know where she lives off the top of my head, and even if I did I can’t tell you that. I don’t even know who you are.”
But Richard was already running back to the car. “Thank you anyway sir.”
Now he had two pieces of the puzzle. He knew her name was Ruth, and he knew she lived in Yonkers. He flipped these ideas in his head but couldn’t see how he could connect them. He had thought about a phone book but after about the twentieth Ruth he had tossed that idea out. He stopped at a diner. It was small with room for about forty people. Everything else was stainless steel with warm yellow booths, wood blinds, and a long counter. A jukebox sat in a lonely corner. He got a cup of coffee and a sandwich and stared out the window at the setting sun. The waitress came up to him and asked him if he needed anything. Richard shook his head no and the waitress paused.
“Something wrong.”
“I’m looking for someone. Her name is Ruth.” He described her but the lady just shook her head. He started to talk about how they met and the lady stopped him.
“Only one place around here sells a Tulle dress like that.”
“A what?”
“That type of dress you just described is a Tulle.”
Richard looked at her and smiled. Ten minutes later he was driving to a store in Yonkers, he ran inside right as the girl was closing the door.
“Excuse me sir, we’re closing.”
“I know, I just got one question for you.”
He thought she had been young at first but now he realized she was old enough to be his own mother. With glasses that perched on the end of her nose and a loose looking face. Slightly grey curls, cut short, completed the image.
“Ma’am. I’m leaving for Europe tomorrow, I need to find this girl before I leave. I’m pretty sure she got her dress from here.”
“Sir. If I’ve heard one story from a soldier I’ve heard a million. You’re all going here or there. You all want to buy something for some lady that you’ll never see again. Closing.”
“Well…I’m not leaving.”
With that Richard sat on the ground, right there, on the spot. He sat Indian style with his arms crossed against his chest
“Sir…please…get up.”
“Not until you help me ma’am.”
She looked down on him with a look of judge, jury, and executioner.
“What do you want?”
“A girl bought a dress from here. A tulle dress or something like that.”
“We sell a lot of Tulle dresses sir.”
“Her name is Ruth.”
The lady stood there, hands on her hips, keys in her hand. She sighed heavily and said she would look through the receipts. But only through receipts from the last month. She shuffled off out of site and Richard let out a heavy sigh. After about twenty minutes she came back out to Richard…who was still sitting on the floor.
“I’ve got two Ruth’s. One of them lives in Sleepy Hollow, the other in Tarrytown.”
She wrote down the address on the receipt and handed it to him.
“You get in trouble with that you didn’t get it from me. Now get out of here.”
Richard kissed her on the cheek (the older woman blushed) and ran out the door at a full sprint. He stopped at two gas stations to get directions, both delivered to him by angry clerks who realized he wasn’t actually giving them any money, before he finally found the place. It was a nice little house of a light blue color with green trim. He walked up to the door, paused and calmed his breathing, then knocked. A girl in her teens answered the door and looked at him.
“Can I help you?”
“I’m looking for Ruth.”
She paused for a moment and eyeballed him with a look of disbelief.
“She’s not here.”
“We’ll I’ll just wait.”
The woman with almost an aura of annoyance and determination said quickly.
“There’s no telling when she’ll be back.”
“That’s fine.”
She huffed and stared at Richard.
“Well you can’t wait inside.”
As soon as she said that they both jumped at the clap of thunder and Richard looked at her.
“This looks like a comfy porch.”
He walked over to a couch that was on the porch and sat down. He looked around at the old wooden porch paint chipping and missing in spots. Corners that almost guaranteed splinters. He glanced at the leaking gutters, the water pouring out in clumps. The tulips blooming in the front yard, practically begging to be picked. He smiled. The porch itself was neatly cleaned. There were no cobwebs or gathering of leaves or dirt that he could see, a child‘s toy sat alone in a corner. The pillows on the couch were dust free. Richard sat there, amidst rocking chairs and a porch swing, and watched the rain fall. Another woman came up to the porch, a black woman with a yellow umbrella over her head, she spotted him quickly.
“Can I help you?”
In truth he expected an accent but heard English better than even he spoke.
“I’m waiting on Ruth.”
“Oh…” The woman, like the previous teen, gave him a puzzled look.
“I thought she only had one roommate.”
“The house is separated into two apartments, her and Francis live in the other apartment.”
“Is that who I spoke to earlier?”
“No…Francis isn‘t home this weekend, that was Molly. I‘m Grace. This weekend is our turn.”
“Richard…your turn for what?”
She looked at him with an expression of sympathy. “Would you like to come inside? There’s no telling when she will be home.”
“No…I’m ok, thank you.”
“Are you hungry?”
“No ma’am…I’m alright.”
She had a motherly way about her. It put Richard at ease and soothed his nerves.
“You sure?”
“Yes ma’am.”
Before he knew it Richard fell asleep again. He awoke to the sound of a slight rain and crickets chirping. In the distance he thought he could hear the sound of the river. The temperature had dropped rapidly and he found that he had a blanket covering him. He assumed it had been Grace. He sat there and listened to the few cars that went by, their tires slinking through the puddles. A few minutes later he heard a car door close and a heavenly voice say, “Thank you.” He heard the click of her shoes on the sidewalk and his heart rate quickened, then he heard, before he saw, her start up the front stairs onto the porch. Richard looked at her and she glanced over at him before dropping the bag she was carrying in her hands.
“Bet you never thought you would see me here.”
“How…how did you find me? What are you doing here?”
He stood up, shifting back and forth on his feet, hands in his pockets.
“I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you. Then…last night…you just left. You wouldn‘t believe what I‘ve been through to track you down.”
She looked around like a frightened animal.
“Track me down? You shouldn’t even be here, you don’t understand.”
Richard took a step towards her and she took a step back. She was still wearing her work clothes and even then he thought she was beautiful.
“Help me to understand.”
“I can’t do this again…I can’t go back down that road.”
“What road?”
She looked at him and tears welled up in her eyes. Just the thought of her crying was breaking his heart. He took another step towards her and she started to run, down the stairs and through the yard towards the back of the house. Richard contemplated not following her, just leaving right there, but his heart, and all he had been through to find her, wouldn’t allow it. He started to run after her, and caught her when she reached the bank of the river.
“Leave me alone.” Ruth cried, and struck out at him.
He didn’t defend himself, he let her hit him. His shirt soaked and sticking to his skin.
“Tell me.”
“I promised myself I would never love anyone again. Do you know what that house is?”
She pointed to it like it was something disgusting, something to be hated.
“A house?”
“A house for un-wed mothers. My family kicked me out…my friends disowned me. You don’t want anything to do with me.”
Without pause Richard said, “I don’t care.”
Ruth looked at him and for a brief moment the sadness in her face turned to anger.
“Just leave! Leave like he did. Like everyone else.”
“I won’t leave you. I couldn’t leave you.”
The look of anger became worse. If Richard knew better he would have seen it as a look of hate.
“You are leaving…today. You’ll be half a world away. Why did I even talk to you?”
She ran a hand through her rain soaked hair, pushing it out of her face, and looked at him, the tears mixing with the rain.
“I’ll be back.”
“How do you know that?”
“I just know.”
Ruth turned around and began pacing back and forth.
“That’s not good enough.”
She stared at him, not so much stared as glared. A look of conviction.
“Give me a chance.”
She threw her hands in the air.
“Give you a chance? Why should I give you a chance?”
“From the moment I looked at you across that bar I knew you were the dame for me. There’s no one else I want and I can’t just throw that away.”
For a moment she stopped, and simply looked at him.
“How do you know that?”
Richard reached out to touch her but stopped.
“I just do. It’s something down inside. Something I can’t explain.”
“We don’t even know each other. I have a daughter in there that you didn’t even know existed until right now. You‘re crazy.”
He saw her defenses going down, recognized that, though wounded and angry there was something else.
“I am crazy, and we don’t know each other. Not yet anyway…but we can.”
“All these promises. All these lies. There’s no way you can know for sure.”
“Look at me.”
When she finally looked at him he felt like he was the last man on earth. He no longer felt the rain, he couldn’t hear the sound of the river, or notice the sun as it was slowly rising in the horizon. Time ceased to exist.
“Tell me you don’t feel something for me. Look me in the eye and tell me that.”
“We’ve only known each other for one night.”
This time he did grab her, lightly, by the arms. Despite the situation he was marveled by her beauty.
“Why does it need to take more than one night?”
She looked him in the eye again, then turned away.
“I don’t feel anything for you.”
“Look me in the eyes and tell me that.”
Ruth looked him in the face for what felt like an eternity before she leaned up and kissed him gently on the lips.
“This is nuts. You’re going off to fight in a war.”
Richard almost wanted to cry. He didn’t say anything, he only looked at her. Even as he watched her though he saw some tension leave her shoulders.
“You will leave me.”
“I won’t.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I do. Even a world apart I couldn‘t leave you…I won’t leave you.”
She leaned in closer and looked up at him.
“Tell me you love me.”
“I love you.”
He knew he did. Despite knowing her for twenty-four hours, Richard knew he loved her. This time he leaned down and kissed her.
“You’re crazy, you know that.”
Ruth buried her face into his wet chest.
“I know.”
“Should call the cops on you right now.”
“You should.”
She paused and looked at him again before smiling the smile that melted his heart the moment he saw it.
“My name is Ruth. Ruth Weber. From New York. I was able to meet you because it was my weekend to go out.”
“Richard. Richard Blithe. From Virginia. I was able to meet you because the army is sending me to war.”
She kissed him again, he held her close, and they watched the sun rise.

If you made it this far, thank you, and let me know what you think. I always think that when I do short stories like this that I do far too much research. I made sure to find slang words that were accurate for the time period, as is the music, the types of alcohol they drink, the cigarettes they smoke, the clothes they wear, the descriptions of the places they are at, even the weather in New York during April of 1944. For example...the picture is of the dress Ruth is wearing when he sees her at the club. Also...the plant she works at as a Rosie is actually the only real place that existed (where Rosie's worked) in New York during WWII. The part involving the unwed mothers home is partially true as well. My grandmother on my mothers side was an unwed mother who was forced to leave the town she lived in to go to another town to have her baby, and she too had to live in a home for unwed mothers (this also took place during WWII).

Again, thanks for reading. Let me know what you think, whether good or bad, it can only help me.

1 comment:

  1. It was nice. I found myself reading and stopping (for various reasons) and itching to finish reading. i liked it. I'd also like to read some of your other stuff. If you show me yours, I'll show you mine..