Our hero Arnold Schnabel’s friend that sadly-forgotten giant of literature Horace P. Sternwall (A No Good Dame; Port of Shame; etc.) continues to read aloud from his modern classic of forbidden passions Slaves of Sappho…
(Kindly click here to read our preceding chapter; go here to return to the first chapter of Slaves of Sappho. Potential new converts may click here to go all the way back to the beginning of Arnold Schnabel’s Gold View Award™-winning masterpiece Railroad Train to Heaven©.)
“Arnold Schnabel is an author whose world was so expansive that it even included – or should one say subsumed? – the worlds of other great writers, most notably the regrettably still sadly-obscure Horace P. Sternwall.” – Harold Bloom, in the Ladies’ Home Journal Literary Supplement.
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- “
“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 dark hair and wearing a low-cut red 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.
“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.
She didn’t know what Lobster Thermidor was, but it sounded exotic, and divine…
(Continued here, bashing on both regardless and irregardless.)
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