Monday, March 30, 2015

Slaves of Sappho: chapter six

a novel of forbidden passion

by Horace P. Sternwall {writing as Hortense Paula St. Claire}

(In our previous episode of Slaves of Sappho, the tall and somewhat exotic Southern girl Muriel Armitage invited her new friend the Barnard graduate and Macy’s shopgirl Missy Hallebrand to dine with her in the Prince Hal Room of the venerable Hotel St Crispian. – Dan Leo, editor of Drunken Nights and Slept-Through Days: Memories of Greenwich Village, by Horace P. Sternwall, the Olney Community College Press.) 

Illustrations by rhoda penmarq for penmarq/sternwall/jack webb productions, ltd.

First Night

Somehow Muriel had summoned an elderly man who must have been the maître d', at any rate the man had appeared, smiling and bowing slightly, and after exchanging a few words with Muriel he led them to a table right in front of the bandstand. 

The old man laid down two leather-bound menus he had been carrying under his arm, and just as Missy was about to seat herself he glided around her, and, bowing slightly, moved her chair back a few inches. This was something Chad used to do sometimes, although she had never quite gotten used to it, but she plunged ahead and lowered her small body in the direction of the chair and miraculously the chair met her bottom without incident while simultaneously somehow moving closer to the table. Quickly the old man floated to the other side of the table and performed the same magic with Muriel’s chair.

When Muriel had been safely seated the old fellow then gracefully picked up the folded napkin at her place, gave it a flick and allowed it to settle upon her lap. Knowing that she would be next Missy leaned back in her chair as the man came over and then performed the same feat with her napkin.

He then turned and faced Muriel, again bowing slightly.

“Thank you ever so much, Anatole,” said Muriel, “and listen,” she gestured with her Herbert Tareyton at the menus on the table, “take those things away if you please. You all have the Lobster Thermidor tonight?”

“We do, Miss Armitage,” said the old man, quickly scooping up the menus.

“Good,” said Muriel. “Nice and fresh?”

“We still have several nice lobsters swimming merrily in their tank in the kitchen, miss.”

“Oblivious to their impending doom,” said Muriel. “Well, we’ll take two of the Lobster Thermidor then, with the haricots verts? And those itty bacon bits? You know how I like 'em.”

“I do indeed, miss. Crispy.”

“But not burnt,” said Muriel. “You remember that one time when the bacon bits were burnt black as coal?”

“I do indeed, miss.”

“It’s a fine line, isn’t it, Anatole? Between crispy and burnt.”

“A fine line I assure you Chef will never cross again, Miss Armitage.”

“We can only hope and pray,” said Muriel. “But, oh, wait, tell me something, Anatole – how are the oysters today? Alive and kickin’?”

“Very much so, miss,” said the ancient man named Anatole.

“Better bring us a couple dozen of those little critters then to start off – oh, and just so we get all our vitamins, bring out a couple of tomato salads with ‘em, with Thousand Island dressing. You like Thousand Island dressing, Missy?”

“Gee, I guess so,” said Missy, having some trouble making the words come out of her mouth, as if they were made of rubber, or Jell-O.

“Thousand Island dressing, Anatole,” said Muriel, “and, look, if we’re having the oysters and the lobster I guess we’re just gonna have to go ahead and have some bubbly. You still got some of that pink Veuve Cliquot?”

“Miss Armitage, I always keep at least a few bottles set aside just for you.”

“Ah, you’re so sweet, sir. Well, we’ll start with one bottle then. Now run along before we simply die of thirst!”

“Right away, Miss Armitage,” said Anatole, and he drifted away through the tables.

It was all happening too quickly for Missy to take in, and then there was the music, Lily LaRue singing “Strike Up the Band”, and Muriel sitting back in her chair, taking a drag on her Herbert Tareyton, and gazing at her, at Missy, from under the brim of her Panama hat.

Missy felt awkward with Muriel gazing at her like that, and so she looked at the table, with its two place-settings and bread plates, a white tablecloth, only slightly worn and faded,

and with a small blue-glass pitcher, with only one crack in it, with one red rose protruding from it. There was also a clear glass ashtray with the words painted on it, in black: 


“I do hope you like oysters and champagne,” said Muriel. “I didn’t think to ask.”

“I’ve – I’ve never had oysters,” said Missy. “Or champagne.”

Now Muriel leaned forward, putting her elbows on the table. Smoke drifted out of her nostrils, and her eyes felt to Missy as if they were entering her own eyes.

“I have a feeling you’re gonna do more than one thing you’ve never done tonight, Missy.”

Missy didn’t know what Muriel meant. She didn’t know what any of this meant. She wanted to say something, but she didn’t know what it was she wanted to say. But still she felt she had to say something, with Muriel sitting there, leaning forward over the table, her dark eyes somehow flowing into hers.

“Gee,” she said, “all this must be terribly expensive, Muriel.”

“Expensive is just a matter of relativity, darlin’,” said Missy. “You’ve heard of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity?”

“Yes, of course – we studied it at Barnard, it’s the theory that –”

“Well, you want to hear Muriel’s Theory of Relativity?”


“That’s me – Muriel.”

“Oh, yes! Of course –”

“Muriel’s Theory of Relativity is a poor man’s penny is the same as a rich man’s dollar. It also means what’s good for the gander is not always good for the goose, but sometimes it is. And a hot dog is as good as a T-bone steak if that’s what you’ve got a hankerin’ for.”

“I see,” said Missy, trying very hard to concentrate. “So you’re saying it all, uh, depends - on, uh – circumstances –”

Exactement, as the French say,” said Muriel.

“But still – champagne, and oysters and, and lobster –”

“Don’t worry about it, honey, I got it all covered.”

“Gosh, Muriel, you must have a, a terribly well-paying job!”

“Who said I have a job?”

“But, but –”

“What did I tell you about buts?”

“That they’re what your Herbert Tareyton will be when you finish smoking it?”

“You’ve been paying attention!”

“Oh, yes –”

“You see, honey,” said Muriel, and she tapped the ash of her Herbert Tareyton into the ashtray, “I may not have what most people look on as a job per se, but I am by way of being on a sort of salary from my grandfather. The Judge.”

“Your grandfather’s a judge?”

“Among his other qualifications and titles, yes, he has been on the county bench back home in Collardsville for, oh gosh, must be twenty-five years now.”


“Collardsville, Georgia, seat of the ancestral estate of the Armitages.”

“So – I don’t understand,” said Missy, “do you, um, do some sort of work for your grandfather, or –”


“But, I mean, sorry, not ‘but’, but – I don’t understand –”

“What I do for the Judge,” said Muriel, “is never to set foot in Collardsville, Georgia, again, with the grudging exception of Christmas and perhaps the occasional funeral.”

“You man he pays you to – to stay away?”

“Yes,” said Muriel. “Do you believe that old fool? Payin’ me to stay away? When just between you and me and the wall he’d have to pay me to stay down there in that godforsaken backwater, and a whole heck of a lot more than he’s paying me now, that’s for sure.”

“Gee,” was all that Missy could think to say, but she was spared the immediate obligation to say anything further, as the elderly man Anatole had returned with a bucket with a bottle in it, along with another not-quite so elderly man who carried a three-legged stand in one hand and a tray with two long-stemmed glasses on it in his other hand, and the next minute was dominated by a ceremony in which the not-so-old man placed the glasses on the table, then set up the stand next to the table, Anatole putting the bucket into the stand, then taking the bottle, which was wrapped in a napkin, out of the bucket, twisting foil and wire from the top of the bottle, wresting a cork from it, and then pouring a small amount of pink bubbly liquid from it into the glass that was closest to Muriel.

Muriel picked up the glass and drank the little bit of pink bubbly liquid down. 

“Not half bad, Anatole – now pour away, if you please.”

Anatole filled the glass in front of Missy and then Muriel’s, put the bottle back in the bucket, which Missy noticed had ice in it, and then he and the other man floated away again.

“Cheers, big ears,” said Muriel, holding up her glass, and smiling in a way that seemed friendly.

Missy picked up her glass, and she knew what she was supposed to do now, so she held it out and touched it to Muriel’s. 

Muriel drank down a good long gulp of the pink sparkling liquid, and so Missy did the same.

“And what do you think of the bubbly?” said Muriel, and she took another drag of her Herbert Tareyton.

“I think it’s the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted,” said Missy, quite honestly.

“Better even than a Tom Collins?”

“Oh, yes,” said Missy. “I mean the Tom Collinses were swell, but this is like, it’s like –”

“Like little bits of heaven, dancing a jitterbug in your mouth?”

“Yes!” said Missy.

“Want some more?”

“Maybe just a little bit,” said Missy.

Muriel picked the bottle up out of its bucket and topped off their glasses with the magical pink liquid.

“Muriel,” said Missy, after she had taken another but much smaller swallow, and it was as if the bubbles were pushing the words out of her lips, “would you mind if I asked you a personal question?”

“Why not at all, doll,” said Muriel. “Heck, land knows I’ve been asking you enough of them!”

“Why does your grandfather pay you to stay away from home?”

Muriel had been raising her glass to her lips when Missy asked the question, and she paused a moment before drinking, looking at Missy in a way that seemed impassive. Then she brought the glass the rest of the way to her lips, took a drink, emptying half of its contents this time, and put the glass down.

“He pays me to stay away,” she said, “because I have disgraced the Armitage name.”

“Oh, my goodness!” said Missy. “Listen, Muriel, I really didn’t mean to pry, so please, you don’t have to tell me any more.”

“I have nothing to hide, honey.”

“You – you don’t?”

“Nope. My conscience is clear. Clear as a summer’s day.”

“But – but – oh, I’m sorry, I said ‘but’ again.”

“That’s okay, child, you just say ‘but’ all you want. We’re friends.”

“But what did you do that your grandfather thought you, you know –”

“Disgraced the Armitage family name.”

“Yes. I mean if you want to tell me. I mean I really shouldn’t ask. It’s none of my business.”

“I don’t mind. You see, Missy, in the Judge’s way of thinking – and bear in mind this is a man who allows my father – a notorious drunkard and whoremonger, degenerate gambler and welcher of debts – who allows my father to live rent-free in the familial manse, along with my sainted mother, another world-famous gin-soak and paramour of stable boys and grooms, and not only white ones bear in mind, not to mention my brother, who has spent so many nights sleeping it off in the local hoosegow he’s got his very own goose-down bed there –”

“His own bed?”

“Would you believe it? Says he can’t get a good night’s or day’s as the case may be sleep in one of the regular hoosegow cots, so he had his own goose-down bed put in there and they keep it in a storeroom and bring it out just for him, you believe that?”


“So you can see that disgracing the Armitage family name is something that takes a bit of doing.”

“But what did you do?” said Missy.

“I committed the sin that may not be spoken of.”


“No. At least not in Collardsville, Georgia. But to you I will speak of it. Can you guess?”

Missy tried to think. A sin. A very bad sin. In Georgia.

“Oh, no,” she said.

“What, honey?”

“Did you get pregnant with a – a Negro?”

Muriel had been taking a drink, and now she made a sort of laughing snort. She picked up her napkin and put it to her nose.

“Damn,” she said. “Hate it when the bubbly comes out my nostrils like that.”

“I’m sorry,” said Missy.

“Not your fault, honey. But no, I did not get in the family way with one of the Negro field hands. No. In the Judge’s mind I did something far worse.”

“You don’t have to tell me.”

“I want to tell you.”


“Well, what it was, was – oh, look, hooray, the oysters are here!”

It was the silent not-so-old man again, with three plates balanced on his left arm and a fourth one in his right hand, and in a blur of efficiency he transferred all four plates to the table without breaking or spilling anything – two small bowl-like plates with cubed tomatoes and other things all dribbled over with a thick-looking pale-orange dressing, and two larger plates each holding a dozen oysters on the half shell, the shells nestled into indentations in the plate, with a small bowl of something red nestled in a larger indentation in the center of each plate, and with slices of bright lemons laid attractively near the borders of the plates, a tiny fork also on each plate.

Bon appétit, ladies,” said the man, and without being asked he deftly lifted the champagne bottle from its bucket and refilled their glasses. He then replaced the bottle in its bed of ice and silently floated away again.

“Here, I’ll show ya how it’s done honey,” said Muriel, and after taking one more drag of her Herbert Tareyton she stubbed it out, then picked up one of the lemon slices on her plate and squeezed some juice on her oysters. “Now you just use this little fork here, pick one out, dip it in the cocktail sauce, and then plump it in your mouth. Like so.”

Missy watched her new friend demonstrate the eating of an oyster.

“Yum,” said Muriel. “Go ahead, try one.”

Missy picked up her little fork and looked at the strange glistening things on her plate. She squeezed a few drops of lemon juice on one, then poked it with her fork, lifted it out from its shell, and then dipped it in the cocktail sauce, just as Muriel had done.

“What were we talking about?” said Muriel, taking another drink of her pink champagne. 

“The reason your grandfather pays you to stay away from home?” said Missy, looking at the thing on her fork.

“Oh, yes,” said Muriel, and she impaled another oyster on her own fork. “Reason being, I was shall we say committing the act of darkness with members of my own gender.”

Missy had the oyster in her mouth when Muriel said this. She didn’t know whether to chew it or just swallow it whole. She decided to chew it, and as she did the meaning of Muriel’s words belatedly made itself manifest in her brain.

She felt something on her foot, and she realized it was another foot, a bare foot, Muriel’s foot, and the foot slowly made its way up the inner side of her calf.

The oyster was surprisingly delicious, as was the feeling of Muriel’s foot creeping up the tender flesh of her leg, and she felt a thrill she had never known before, not even that time when Chad, after drinking two gin rickeys, had kissed her on the back of her neck – that one, that only time.

She looked into Muriel’s dark eyes, which were looking into hers, and as she felt that naked foot caressing her inner thigh she thought, yes, this was to be a night of first things – of many first things, and she swallowed the oyster.

Chapter 7: "Desire"

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

fun, part 12

by harold p sternhagen writing as "ralph desmond"

as originally appearing in the july-august 1951 issue of sinister destinies magazine

illustrated by konrad kraus

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous episode of "fun" , click here

to begin "fun", click here

in our previous chapters, we met jerry and roselle winfield, socialites and slummers extraordinaire.

jerry suspects that roselle intends to kill him.

and he seeks to locate his old army buddy "whitey" wilson to help him avoid this fate, perhaps by murdering roselle.

stopping outside of syracuse with his new acquaintance pandora wilson on his way to meet whitey in rochester, he buys a newspaper with a sensational headline. a body identified as roselle's has been discovered in an alley in brooklyn.

he arrives in rochester in the early morning hours and enters an all night diner...


the diner was very quiet and jerry could hear the waves of panic roaring in his brain.


jerry was more astonished than he would have been if he had not thought about whitey since the last time he saw him in louisiana.

and now he didn’t want to see him!

jerry froze. whitey, drying his hands on a towel, stepped closer to him.

for a split second jerry thought of pretending to not recognize whitey and hoping whitey didn’t recognize him.

whitey smiled.

and jerry knew from the expression in whitey’s blue eyes that it was no use.

whitey didn’t seem surprised to see him. of course that was just the way he had been back in the army - never giving anything away.

“well, lieutenant, “ whitey finally spoke after giving jerry a long slow smile, “i’ve been sort of expecting you.”

“you have?” jerry asked him. he felt totally bewildered. was this all a dream?

“why not? you called me in pinkerville, didn’t you? got my aunt pearl. you wanted to know where i was, so i figured you might come looking for me.”

of course! jerry felt like a complete idiot, like he was losing his mind.

whitey laughed, that short little laugh jerry now remembered, not mean, but not really friendly either.

“you feeling all right? maybe you should sit down.” whitey pointed to the row of empty stools at the lunch counter. “sit down, i’ll get you a cup of coffee.”

“ thanks.” jerry sat down on the nearest stool. he suddenly felt faint, and his vision blurred a little.

whitey walked around and went behind the counter. he got a cup and filled it from a machine.

jerry looked around. it seemed like days ago he had gone into the diner on west end avenue were he had tried to call whitey in north carolina and where he had met pandora.

and then there was the diner he and pandora had stopped at outside syracuse where he had read about roselle.

and now this place. was the whole world just one big all night diner? was life a dream?

whitey was saying something. “this stuff might not be the freshest. you might want to put something in it.”

jerry’s head was clearing a little now that he was seated. “no, black is all right.”

“i wasn’t talking about cream and sugar.” whitey reached under the counter and produced a half pint of whiskey - jerry assumed it was whiskey although it was unlabeled. “just a touch.”

jerry felt better just seeing the bottle. “sure, thanks. just a touch.”

the cup was half full of thick black coffee and whitey filled it to the top with the booze.

jerry grabbed it with two hands and drank it down. even cut in half by the foul coffee the whiskey - or whatever it was - burned his throat going down.

“ahhh - i needed that.”

“glad to be of service.” whitey smiled again. “so how did you find me here? at this time of night?”

“i didn’t. i mean - i found your address but i just came in here to wait until it got light before i rang your bell. i just happened to come in here. i was surprised to see you.”

whitey nodded. “ yeah, that makes sense. so what can i do for you? why don’t we go over in a booth over there, get more comfortable?”

“all right.”

“want more coffee?”

“yes. but just coffee this time.” i better keep a clear head, jerry thought. though it might be a little late for that.

“want anything to eat? this is a diner.”

“no, i just ate.”

when they got in the booth, jerry’s mind drew a complete blank. he realized there was no way he could concoct a plausible story about what he was doing there that would convince whitey and let him just get away without really telling him anything.

so he told him everything.


back in the desoto, in the shadows half a block down from the diner, pandora’s brain was racing.

full speed ahead.

she had read the story about roselle’s murder - and the police looking for jerry - three times.

there was a picture of jerry - not a very large or recent or good one. she couldn’t tell just from the picture.

but it had to be him. everything fit. his nervousness, the whole crazy thing of paying her to drive him over 300 miles in the middle of the night.

where she met him was not that far from the address the couple lived at, according to the story.

and most of all, the way he had not wanted her to see the paper back in the diner in syracuse.

the big thing - the only thing that mattered - he was rich.

maybe not as rich as the paper said - pandora knew the papers would exaggerate to make a good story - but he had to be pretty rich. she had already figured that out, just from the way he acted.

there had to be an angle. nothing so crude as just shaking him down.

he must need someone to help him. otherwise why would he be running like this?

that’s right, he needed a friend. everybody needs a friend in this big bad world.

especially rich guys running from the law.

she would be his friend. his best friend in the world. for the right price.

could she handle him? after all, he had killed his wife.

pandora knew there were guys she couldn’t handle, not on her own anyway. tough guys.

real tough guys.

which description she was sure jerry did not fit.

pandora’s eyes narrowed. the big thing now was - keep him in sight.

then it hit her - was she sure he was still in the diner? she had tried to keep one eye on the diner while she read the paper - which she had to concentrate on to read in the dim light from the pawn shop -

but he might have slipped out. just slipped out. like a cool breeze, not even worrying if anyone was watching.

but why would he?

she could see the diner and its front door but she could not see if he was still in there.

front door! maybe he had gone out the back. maybe this was not the street he wanted at all. maybe he had deliberately ditched her and was long gone. that hadn’t crossed her mind.

she had to know. she couldn’t just sit there like an idiot if he was miles away.

she took out a cigarette and lit it, to try to calm herself.

there was nothing else for it - she had to get out and look.

she slowly opened the car door and stepped out. jeez, it had got cold!

she tossed the barely smoked cigarette away and pulled her coat tighter around her.

as she approached the diner she got more nervous - she couldn’t see anyone inside it at all.

she went right up to the window.

there was nobody seated at the counter.

there was nobody behind the counter.

there were some booths, but she couldn’t see into them.

she slowly opened the door.

part 13

Monday, March 16, 2015

Slaves of Sappho: chapter five

a novel of forbidden passion

by Horace P. Sternwall {writing as Hortense Paula St. Claire}

(In our previous chapter of Slaves of Sappho, the tall dark Southern girl Muriel Armitage has informed her new friend the small blonde Barnard graduate Missy Hallebrand that the latter’s boyfriend is a member of the homosexual persuasion. – Dan Leo, editor of Sisters in Shame: Three Lesbian Novels by Horace P. Sternwall: Slaves of Sappho; A Gal Called Sal; Lesbian Laundromat; the Olney Community College Press.) 

Illustrations and layout by rhoda penmarq for penmarq artistic enterprises™ (inks and colors by roy dismas; lettering by eddie el greco).

Girls Night

And Missy proceeded to let it all out – all the sorrow and disappointment, all the unhappiness, all the boredom and frustration of her completely unsatisfactory and apparently never-getting-any-better young life.

When she had used up the cocktail napkins Muriel had given her and they were reduced to a sodden little ball Muriel gave her another stack and Missy continued sobbing. When she reduced this second batch of napkins to a hard wet ball Muriel took it from her fingers and pressed one more stack of napkins into Missy’s small damp palm.

“All right, now, darlin’,” said Muriel. “Now you just stop that sobbing and get a grip on yourself, because now you really are making a spectacle. Come on, buck up, child.”

“Sorry,” said Missy, sniffling. ”It’s just that my life is so horrible.”

“Now, it’s not that bad.”

“Yes it is! I have a stupid job, and I live in a crowded filthy smelly apartment with three idiots, and my boyfriend is a – a- “

“A faggot.”

“Yes!” said Missy. “My life is horrible, hopeless. Awful.”

“Now that’s funny,” said Muriel.

“What’s funny?” said Missy.

“It’s funny because I was not aware that you had a terminal cancer.”

“I don’t have cancer!”

“I also didn’t know you had an incurable disfiguring skin disease.”


“I had also not been apprised that you were some poor little pickaninny child growing up in brutal poverty in a one-room tarpaper shack on one of my family’s properties back home in Georgia. Didn’t know that.”

Missy had stopped crying.

“Okay,” she said. “I get it. I’m being a self-pitying brat.”

“Aw, heck,” said Muriel, “we all need a good cry now and then, state of the world what it is, and always has and always will be. Go ahead, wipe your face, but that’s it with the waterworks now. Raoul’s gonna have to start charging us for those beverage napkins and I’m not made of money.”

Missy did as she had been told and Muriel took the third wadded ball of paper away from her and lined it up with the first two near the far edge of the bar top.

Like a living ghost Raoul the bartender silently appeared and made the three wads of paper disappear, and then he himself just as silently and swiftly disappeared without having said a word or made by facial expression the slightest indication that he had witnessed anything untoward.

“Gee, I must look awful,” said Missy.

“You should go to the ladies’ and freshen up your make-up,” said Muriel. “Do you a world of good.”

“Yes, I suppose I should,” said Missy. “Do you know where the ladies’ room is?”

“Of course I do, sweety. I’ll take you there – but first let’s finish these drinks. Go on, put your ruby-red lips on that straw.”

“All of it at once?”

“All of it at once. One two three, now let’s do it.”

Muriel put her puckered lips to her straw, and Missy did the same to hers.

“Ah,” said Muriel, when all that remained in her glass was some ice but no liquid at all. “That sure hit the spot!”

Missy had managed to finish her drink also. This was the first time in her life she had ever had two alcoholic beverages in succession, and she felt a sensation which she realized must be at least the beginning stages of drunkenness. It felt good. At any rate she felt better than she had been feeling half a minute ago.

Muriel collected her pack of cigarettes and her lighter and dropped them into that enormous leather bag of hers. Then she stubbed out her Herbert Tareyton and slipped off her stool.

“Come on, follow me, honey. We’ll get you fixed up and looking just as nice and fresh as a daisy.”

Missy went to stub out her own Herbert Tareyton, but then saw that she had let it go out in the ashtray. She hated to think that she had wasted such a nice cigarette, but then she had wasted her life, so what was a cigarette?

“Let’s go, doll,” said Muriel, brushing the side of Missy’s face with her knuckles.

“Yes, sorry,” said Missy.

She picked up her small black plastic purse and climbed off her stool, almost falling as she did so, but Muriel took her arm and held her upright, and then led her arm-in-arm down the length of the bar, toward the bandstand, where Lily LaRue was now singing “Blame it on my Youth”, then they turned left and went into a narrow hallway and to a door on the right marked Ladies.

Muriel half-sat on a sink and smoked another Herbert Tareyton while Missy rinsed her face, dried it, and then applied make-up from her purse.

“I guess you’re pretty good at make-up, what with working at Macy’s,” said Muriel.

“Well, it’s all part of the job,” said Missy.

“You don’t even really need make-up,” said Muriel. “Pretty as you are.”

“Do you really think I’m pretty?”

“I certainly do. And don’t act like you don’t know it, either.”

“Yes,” said Missy, and, looking in the mirror, she gave her face one last dusting with her puff. “I’ll admit I’m pretty. But you’re more than pretty, Muriel. You’re beautiful.”

“Aw, heck, honey, you’re going to make me blush.”

“And you’re so tall. You could be a model.”

“You really think so?” 

“Yes! You should apply at Macy’s for a house-modeling job! There’s good money modeling clothes! You might even get runway and magazine work!”

“Aw, go on now –”

“No! I see these girls every day and they’re not half so beautiful as you! And you don’t even use a lot of make-up, I can tell.”

“I like the natural look for me.”

“But if I could just give you some advice about your eyeliner?”

“Oh, please do. Do I lay it on too thick? Is it too dark?”

“Well, to be honest – both, a little, Muriel.”

Missy had put all her make-up things back in her purse, and now she looked at Muriel with her head cocked slightly, her eyes narrowed in an appraising sort of way.

“You see, with your beautiful dark brown eyes you want the emphasis to be on them, not on what’s around them so to speak.”

“Oh, you must help me then. Should I wipe it all off and you can do it for me?”

“Well, the thing is, don’t take this personally, but I’m not too crazy about the color and texture of the eyeliner you’re using.”


“Yeah. What is that, Jean Naté?”

“Beats me, just something I grabbed at the drug store.”

“Look, I’ll get you something good from Macy’s, I can use my staff discount.”

“Do you want some money?”

Muriel started to unbuckle that big bag of hers.

“Muriel, please. After all you’ve done for me? Let me buy you a small tiny jar of good French eye-liner. I know just what I’m going to get you, too.”

“Aw, you’re sweet.”

Muriel got up from the sink and stepped closer to Missy.

“I just want to give you a kiss,” said Muriel.

“Gee,” said Missy, not knowing at all how to take this statement, but just then the door to the ladies’ room opened.

“Hello, hope I’m not interrupting anything,” said the woman who had just entered.

Muriel turned around.

“Well, hello, you,” she said.

“Hiya, kid,” said the woman, who was none other than the singer for Tony Winston and his Winstonians, Lily LaRue.

She was a pretty young woman with long red hair and wearing a low-cut black dress, and she carried a gold-lamé purse and a lit cigarette. She came over and put her face near Muriel’s and made a kiss in the air.

“Who’s your pal?” she said.

“Oh!” said Muriel, “Lily LaRue, I’d like you to meet my dear friend, Miss Missy, uh –”

“Hallebrand,” said Missy.

“Hallebrand,” said Muriel.

“Pleased to meet you,” said Lily LaRue, and putting her cigarette from her right hand to her left, she extended the right hand to Missy. 

“Very pleased to meet you, Miss LaRue,” said Missy, shaking Lily’s hand, which had a terrific grip for a woman’s.

“Just call me Lily.” She gave Missy’s hand one more good hard squeeze. “Any friend of Muriel’s. What are you girls up to?”

“Just girl-talkin’,” said Muriel.

“Anything juicy?”

“Well, I don’t think it’s anything friend Missy wants bruited about on the high road to all and sundry,” said Muriel.

“Oh, then I have to know!” said Lily. “You girls wait here while I do what I’ve been dying to do, then we can go down the hall to the green room and join the boys, and have a little –”

She put her cigarette near her mouth and mimed puffing movements with her pouted lips.

“Ooh, you naughty girl!” said Muriel. “Hurry up and do your business then!”

“Be right out,” said Lily, and she went into one of the stalls and closed the door.

“Isn’t she cute?” said Muriel.

“I heard that!” called Lily, from inside the stall.

“Well, you are cute!” said Muriel. Then she turned to Missy, and said in a lower tone, “You want to go backstage and meet the rest of the boys in the band?”

“Gee, I guess so,” said Muriel.

“Did you ever smoke reefer?”


“Yeah, you know. Gage. Weed. Tea. Muggles.”

“You mean – marijuana?”



“About time you tried it then.”

“Gee, but – isn’t it addictive?”

“Honey,” said Muriel, and she held up her cigarette between two slender red-nailed fingers, “this Herbert Tareyton here is addictive. Mary Jane is not.”

“But isn’t it – illegal?”

“Some of the best things in life are illegal, honey.”

“I don’t know, Muriel, I’ve never done anything illegal my whole life –”

“And where has all this legality got you? A sordid flat shared with three nincompoops, a job you hate, and a boyfriend who’s a flaming queen.”

Missy looked away, and down, at the stained and cracked tiled floor, at her life, at nothing. Then she looked up at Muriel

“Well,” she said, “if you’re sure we won’t get in any trouble –”

“Honey, those musicians blow reefer in their little green room every chance they get. How else do you think they can stand playing the same songs every night from seven to two, six nights a week?”

“Well, okay,” said Missy. “Maybe I’ll try one puff.”

The thunderous crashing sound of a fifty-year-old toilet flushing reverberated through the ladies’ room, and Lily LaRue emerged from the stall.

“You ladies ready?” she said.

“Ready as we’ll ever be,” said Muriel.

Twenty-eight minutes later Muriel and Missy, with Tony Winston and his Winstonians and Lily LaRue, emerged from what was called “the green room”, but which also served as a storage room for beer, liquor and bar supplies. As in a dream Missy floated down the hallway, past the ladies’ room, and out into the Prince Hal Room. Lily LaRue touched Missy’s cheek with hers, and she and the rest of the musicians headed over to the bandstand.

“Gee, they’re nice,” said Missy.

“What’d I tell you?” said Muriel. “How you feelin’, sweetheart?”

“I feel –”

Missy felt as if she were floating somewhere inside her own head. And Muriel’s face was so – so big, her eyes were so – so deep. Her face was as huge as the face of a movie star on a movie screen. Suddenly Missy felt herself swaying, and it was only with a great act of will that she stopped swaying, if indeed she really had been swaying and not just imagining it. And then she became aware of a message her stomach was sending her, from far away.

“I feel hungry!” she said.

“Oh, you poor thing,” said Muriel. “You haven’t had your supper?”

“No!” said Missy, not meaning to put that exclamation point there, but there it was. “I haven’t eaten since lunch!”

“Well, we’ll just take care of that,” said Muriel. “You like Lobster Thermidor?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never had lobster. Isn’t it expensive?”

“Don’t you worry about how expensive it is.”

“Gee, I don’t know. Maybe I should just have some split pea soup, or –”

“You poor child. Come on, we’re gonna get some good food in you. Then we’ll blow this joint and hit a couple bars.”

“Bars?” said Missy.

“Bars,” said Muriel. “The night is just getting started.” She touched Missy’s cheek in that way that Missy was already getting used to, and which she found strangely thrilling. “We’re gonna have us a good old girls’ night on the town.”

Missy was excited. She was going to have a girls’ night on the town – and she didn’t even have to work tomorrow!

And she was going to have lobster. 

Lobster Thermidor.

She didn’t know what Lobster Thermidor was, but it sounded exotic, and divine…

Chapter 6: First Night