Faye awoke and it was quite late in the afternoon. Before her job, Faye had usually been the first to wake up, however, working as a cigarette girl in a speakeasy had changed her circadian rhythms significantly; about three days a week, she was walking home at dawn beneath a gold-pink sky, and on at least two other days, Tilly was pulling her out to drink late into the night. Tilly was asleep next to her right now. This morning was New Year’s Eve. On the days Tilly did not have to work, she always made a point to sleep in with Faye. Or at least, get up, eat,tidy, and then take a nap until Faye woke up. Faye moved lightly and Tilly blinked her eyes open,
“ ‘Morning my darling,” Tilly’s voice was thick and inebriated with sleep, but to Faye, it would always give the allure of church bells: round, strong, and seeming to echo after they’ve stopped. Tilly kissed Faye lightly on the lips, Faye never ceased to be shocked and stimulated by such kisses replied,
“Have you been asleep this whole time? The sun was way past up when I got home and you were fast sleep on my pillow,” Faye giggled deviously a bit as Tilly said,
“Oh, heavens to Betsy, no darling! No, I got up and went to the bank, washed and did my hair and came back to bed!”
“Why do you always come back to bed with me?” Faye asked this out of curiosity, yet also just to keep Tilly speaking, Faye loved it when she spoke,
“ I sleep so soundly under your blankets and with your pillow I should like to make them my own!” Tilly flashed that incredible smile and blinked her long lashes.
“Oh you would,would you?” Faye asked, really only half joking yet not quite bold enough to admit it.
“Yes, I would, along with this freckle,” Tilly touched Faye’s nose “and this one,” Faye’s cheek, “and this one, “along Faye’s jaw line. Each of the three spots burned and tingled after the touch, and Faye could only laugh for embarrassment and also, if she began to say what she most wished to be hers, she would never stop.
“It is New Year’s Eve Darling, did you realize?” As she said it, Tilly jumped out of bed to do her stretches. Faye was thinking that ‘of course i realize, tonight is the night i deemed for us to be the two of us this year,’ but what Faye said was,
“Yes, of course,” she yawned, “I know we are going out tonight, I have learned things here.”
Many of the cigarette girls knew that working New Years Eve meant making excellent tips. Faye would not be required at work that evening, and even knowing that tips would be given without inhibition, she did not mind. She was excited that Tilly would be joining her at the speakeasy that night. As Leah had the next few days off, she would be accompanying them both as well. Even as Tilly and Faye exchanged touches, their intimacy did not phase Leah. Leah even slept in their room with regularity, unbothered by Tilly’s arm wrapped around Faye as they slept. So they would all three be spending New Year’s at the Speakeasy.
That evening, Faye decided to pick her own outfit and do her own face. Tonight, Faye had much to prove, as she would be confessing a truth that was about to burst from within her heart at any moment. When Faye painted her lips and cheeks, she remembered when Tilly had told her,
“You are quite lovely on your own, you need nothing else,” that was Faye’s first, or maybe, second night in New York. At that time, Faye really had wanted to tell Tilly how lovely her hair was. It was thick and black, but in the right light reds and golds revealed themselves around the curls that framed her face.
“Natalie, but call me Tilly darling,” was how she had introduced herself on the train back in late November when Faye had jumped on without a second thought.
For her dress, Faye had chosen a navy-blue and silver dress that was covered in sequins, and somehow complemented her shape perfectly. She wore the navy blue silk shoes with a bow that Pearl had bought her and her classic fur jacket. She did her face rather exceptionally, she thought. When she finally stepped out before Tilly, Tilly exclaimed,
“Oh! You are so beautiful! At the clubs you must get all the tips!” Tilly kissed Faye on the cheek. Tilly was wearing a red dress that enhanced her olive skin to almost a super human glow, she looked as though she just stepped out of a Moving Picture. The beauty that exuded from her exterior and interior broke Faye’s heart a little. The prospect of what she was planning to say to Tilly tonight scared her and also, excited her. The three girls headed out. Leah and Tilly were so excited for the radio countdown of the New Year.
“You are supposed to kiss somebody,” Leah said, her voice was small, but not high pitched and was almost thick, like molasses. Faye quickly glanced at Tilly and Tilly glanced at Faye, before returning to brace against the wind, the three of them arm-in-arm.
“I think it’s snowing,” Faye said as she saw tiny flakes falling down, the gin they had been drinking made her warm and she said, “the snow is good luck you know? It’s beautiful and blank and you get the opportunity to make your own path… It is special.” Tilly grabbed her hand.
As they walked, Faye was lost in the memory of their first night out together in the snow, Tilly had exclaimed while just her and Faye,
“Oh the snow is so wonderful, don't you wish it could be like this forever? It could!” Tilly had gotten so close to Faye that Faye could feel her warm breath touching her icy skin.
“Wouldn’t everyone ask for such a wonder?” Faye had responded, the white snowflakes gathering and melting on Tilly’s olive skin. She had large dark eyes, with heavy lids, she blinked for moments, because while Faye tried not to look closer, she could not look away. Small flakes were in Tilly’s long eyelashes and stuck in her tight curls. Tilly stepped forward again so Faye could smell her sweet skin, her rose oil was intoxicating and then, Tilly had kissed Faye. For a moment it was a light touch on the lips, and then it turned into something passionate, it lasted a minute… or maybe two. They walked home arm in arm and fell asleep in the same bed-after all they shared a room.
Although Faye had desired more than anything to recreate this warm moment, amidst the snow, the three of them entered the club with Faye saying,
“Strike me dead.” To the man who controlled the locked door which would lead to the basement. The basement was where liquor flowed. The beauty of prohibition was that it turned many average Joe’s into lawbreaking deviants in basements beneath the earth. While this was the capital of capitalism, owners of Speakeasies would do better when they added the excitement and joy that accompanied the female form. This was the beauty in prohibition that is overlooked so often: women were desired as much as the alcohol. Yet in the speakeasy, the women had a strange control to walk away, they had the power to control a crowd and to revolt. In capitalism combining two acts that have been called deviant, yet more people wanted than had distaste made for an environment of freedom which rarely existed in this life.
Instead of monkey glands, which contained absinthe, gin, and some sort of citrus juice, Faye ordered gin and lemon juice for everyone. The green fairy didn’t have a place tonight, as the first night Faye and Tilly really bonded was at this club, they had drunk many, many monkey glands. That night, the world bent around the edges until the edges disappeared, lights had streaked in front of Faye’s eyes. It had all been so intangible until Tilly had kissed Faye. Nothing was as real as when she was close to Tilly, as when they touched, and nothing was as real as when they kissed.
They undressed together and woke up together from that night on. It was not difficult for Tilly to plant kisses upon sleeping and waking. Faye slept deeply and pleasantly with Tilly. On days that Tilly had to work, Faye awoke to coffee and berries left for her along with a note that had a single black heart in black ink.
Tonight, on New Year’s Eve, they each finished their drinks rather quickly and Tilly left the two women at the table and brought back monkey glands. Faye found herself powerless to refuse as it had always been with Tilly.
Faye tried to sip slowly. She had finally admitted to herself that she loved Tilly, and now that she knew, she wanted to tell Tilly everything. Tilly had warmly invited her to join them on the train while Faye took the most exciting journey of her life; to New York. Tilly shone and sparkled with an effervescence that Faye had never known before.
Faye had been in love with a boy back home several years ago. He left for college without proposing, got another woman pregnant, and married her. Faye didn’t know it was possible to love a man and a woman, but Faye knew it was true for her nonetheless.
Tilly and Leah downed their drinks with enthusiasm and delight, as Faye slowly sipped, gauging her warmth. The three of them laughed and joked. Leah danced with a man who she had been seeing on and off for a while. Faye declined the offers, while Tilly floated in and out. The raucousness of the environment would be too easy to slip under and disappear into, Faye needed the edges, she needed the world to be real tonight.
A man approached the two of them at a table. Faye recognized him somehow. He touched Tilly’s shoulder and upon turning exclaimed,
“Oh, my dearest Orin! I had no idea you were back!” Tilly kissed him on the lips, lightly but enough to make Faye’s stomach lurch and itch.
“Yes, my father and I returned from France a week ago, but with Christmas, I had little time to call,” he took Tilly’s hand and then pulled her in close around the waist, “however, I thought I may find you here tonight.” Their faces were so close together but Faye hung on every word. He looked at her over Tilly’s shoulder. He was handsome, with a square jaw and very very blue eyes. His suit was dark and dripping with monetary value.
“And who is this charming young lady? I do not believe we have met,” Tilly turned and he stuck out his hand. Instinctively, Faye took it, her mouth very dry.
“Oh, darling! This is Faye, we met on the train when she was on her way to New York. She’s been living at the Girls’ home with me, isn’t she lovely?” Tilly glanced at Faye and returned her gaze to Orin
“She certainly is. It is absolutely lovely to meet you,” he kissed Faye’s hand lightly.
“Y-yes, you as well.” She sipped her drink in an attempt to quench her parched mouth.
“More drinks?” Orin asked, Tilly nodded, and accompanied him to the bar. Faye lit a cigarette and sat. Her head was so loud and yet… so bewildered. It was as though all her mind could muster was complete white noise. She attempted to calm herself and breathe. After all, Tilly was warm and inviting to everyone, it was one of Faye’s favorite things about her. However, this felt very different.
When Tilly and Orin returned with fresh drinks and were engaged in a conversation about their history, Faye really couldn’t follow all of the conversation, but watched Tilly lean closer to him and touch his face and arm. Faye did manage to learn that Orin’s father owned a very successful clothing line that went worldwide, which was how Tilly had met him, at her department store job. He was always whisking away to France, Italy, Los Angeles, or Britain. His father had just given him the job of New York Executive.
After the two of them were done with their drinks, they went to go to the dance floor, leaving Faye behind. Faye still had to finish her drink, which was true, but she had slowed her drinking so she would not have to get up. Alone, at the table, Faye watched couples arrive together,arm in arm, as well as singles turn into couples as they mingled over drinks and dancing close. She was surrounded by so many people, but felt so very alone all of a sudden. Normally, she loved jazz, but tonight, she did not want the fast-paced music, she wanted an isolated piano to lament over.
There were lights of several different colors, but the only ones that shone brightly anymore were the blue ones. As much as she tried to resist, her eyes kept darting to Tilly and Orin. They were dancing so close. Tilly put her arm around his neck and he pulled her in close from the waist. Then, there was a moment where the world slowed, Faye knew it was coming by the look that crossed Tilly’s face, now pink with heat and exertion-the two of them kissed. It was not a friendly-type kiss, it was an intimate kiss.
The jazz went from loud and fast-paced to Faye only hearing a sad and weeping trumpet, calling directly from her heart and the lights dimmed, the couples turned from people to dark and crossing shadows except for Tilly and Orin. The kiss lasted forever. The pain was physical and for a moment, Faye clutched her chest. She had never thought of herself as a romantic, however, when sharp pains took over the left side of her chest, Faye realized that her young heart was cracking, perhaps even disappearing. Tilly hadn’t even seemed to glance at Faye throughout the entire dance.
Slowly, and carefully, Faye stood up. Her legs felt as though they may collapse beneath her and she would disappear through the floor. She struggled to the bar between dark shadows and mysterious, mocking laughter hiding behind the keening trumpet. She ordered several drinks in a row-straight up. The tender of the bar was someone she knew well, but tonight was as faceless as anyone else. He tried to make conversation but she stumbled back to her table with another drink in hand.
Tilly and Orin returned, both pink and laughing with sweat beads on their foreheads. Faye remembered how the first time she danced with Tilly, each bead was so perfect, how jealous she had been at their proximity to Tilly! Now, she resented the beauty she had so admired. Orin and Tilly had returned with their own drinks and continued to engage in conversation. After so many drinks in so short a time, the hot smoke, the smell of warm bodies, and booze were all making Faye feel sick. Without excusing herself, she got up and moved like the undead to the back alley stairs. It was cold in that staircase and Faye desired so much to get refreshing air.
The stairs led out of the basement, ascending up to a door that didn’t protect very well against the outside climate. It certainly was cold and Faye felt a chill. Her stomach lurched several times and so she sat lonely on the stairs with no jacket. Her skin prickled with the cold and a few tears streaked down her cheeks. She wondered if the sun would ever really rise again over New York. How was she to return to what she considered their home? Their bed?
The heavy metal door banged open just as Faye had wiped her tears. Tilly stood in front of her, her hair almost completely unpinned and her make up a bit runny due to all the sweat, but she was beaming. This image broke Faye’s heart again as Tilly still looked so beautiful.
“Darling!” Her words slurred slightly, “I have something wonderful to tell you! What are you doing here?” She was still beaming, and Faye tried to say her words clearly, but she could hear her own speech garbled and jumbled,
“Yes, it is quite warm isn’t it? Did you find a man to dance with? Anyway, guess what Orin just told me?” Her round voice was spiked with so much enthusiasm. Faye was not ready to hear this, her heart thumped and her hands shook. All of a sudden, her limbs felt very very cold, as though all of her blood were being poured into her broken heart, as happened with any physical injury.
“He is taking me to London with his family in two weeks, can you believe it?” Faye felt as though she were drowning in the back staircase,
“What? What? You- you- you’re leaving?... me?” She could feel sobs building in her throat, starting to asphyxiate her words, and her eyes began to swim. Tilly didn't notice as the room was dark and she was drunk with drinks and infatuation both, Faye knew how powerful a combination that was, and was grateful Tilly remained unaware while replying,
“Oh, don’t worry darling, we will still stay in touch, and we won't marry right away, of course. I want to do my wedding right.” Her voice was so rushed and trilling like a bird in the morning.
“You’re... marrying him?”
“Well, dear, that is what comes after staying with the parents, of course, why else would he invite me?” To be honest, Faye had no idea about anything anymore, so she nodded slowly and said,
“Congratulations,” Faye stood and kissed Tilly on the cheek. Tilly exclaimed,
“Oh thank you, THANK YOU!” And hugged Faye so tight. Faye let her so that she may remember her scent, her skin, her voice. “Now come on, darling, it is nearly midnight!” Tilly opened the door and Faye heard people counting down along with the radio. The lamenting trumpet had stopped, and all of the couples became clear again. Too clear. Tilly stopped at her table with Orin, while Faye grabbed her coat, hat, and gloves. Faye stood next to the front door just long enough to hear everyone simultaneously say,
“THREE… TWO… ONE!” Tilly and Orin kissed passionately with no concern as to where Faye was. So many people kissed and embraced all at once. Seemingly, everyone was kissing somebody except for Faye.
When she stepped out onto the street, snow had piled up above her ankles. There were couples on the street and many sets of footprints. Despite these tracks, large spaces existed where the snow was untouched. What Faye would give to have the innocence and sparkle of not being stepped on. Her heart was cold. The drinks had made her feet and face mostly immune to the freeze. She saw many lights in many apartments. So many people were celebrating while she was breaking. With each crunch of the snow, her heart continued to crack.
After the first block, she turned out of sight of the club, and sobs choked out of her, then took over her. Faye had become the wailing trumpet, the cold air stung as her breath and sobs choked. She careened into the snow, hands first, and was stuck on her knees for several minutes. She saw her tears drop into the snow and steam a little against the cold.
There were millions of stories being created around her through the vessels of millions of people, but she had never felt so isolated. Once she regained herself and stopped sobbing, just lightly crying, she continued on the journey to the Girls’ home, deciding she would find a hotel to stay tonight and maybe forever. Faye did not leave a note, because it would cost too much to say what she needed to. As she left their room in the Girls’ home with her bags, she whispered,
“I have loved you, and maybe always will.” She knew no one would hear her, but she felt as though she owed it to herself to say it to someone or even to something. Her first few days here, Faye had resigned herself to New York, that anything may happen at absolutely any time. Before tonight, she had believed this swiftness and surprise would be for the lighthearted and exciting things, now she knew, when you open yourself up so much to those mercurial spikes and falls, that you may be gutted fiercely and without warning.
Faye walked into a hotel that looked warm, but also within her price range. There was a young girl behind the counter, dark hair and pale skin. Faye gave her name and paid a week in advance.
“How many keys would you like?”
“How many people will be staying with you needing a key?” She was quite kind and lovely, yet Faye’s heart was quite barren.
“Oh, it will just be me.” These words echoed in the late-night silence, the front desk girl grabbed her one single key from the locked closet and told Faye how to get to her room. Faye walked to her room, but she didn't own her own body. All she did was ponder that single key in her hand, pressing it so tightly into her palm it hurt.
When Faye opened the door she saw there were two single beds. Two small beds, just as the room they shared. Faye could indeed see Tilly stripping her clothes and going under the covers. She went into the bed that they would so obviously share. When Faye crawled into bed, fully clothed, she could feel the warmth of Tilly’s skin on hers when she closed her eyes.
So pain permits, through a cracked and broken heart, that our ghosts escape into the world, walking with us, never disappearing, only receding with time.