Strings Attached - By Blundell, Judy

One

New York City

October 1950

The second act curtain was one chorus away when I spotted him. Third row on the aisle, smack in my sight line. I missed the beat and almost sent Shirley into the orchestra pit with my hip.

To get me back, Shirley gave me a pinch underneath the frothy short skirt, so hard it made my eyes water. Brush step, kick, shoulder roll. Mascara stung and my vision blurred. Ball change, pirouette, as he swam in and out of focus.

I could feel my heartbeat slam, even though the routine wasn’t hard. Hold the note, arm up, finger pointed at Millicent March, the star, small and delicate with a thin soprano in constant quest of pitch.

Applause trickled over the footlights. Dust spiraled and settled. I saw his palms hit a few times, then stop. The question of why he was here made my nerves jangle.

Shirley turned on me in the wings as Millicent brushed by, drained of light and energy and comedy, just a thirty-eight-year-old beaten down by the effort of appearing as a coed onstage in a terrible musical with a half-empty house.

“What do you think you’re doing out there, leadfoot?” Shirley spat the question at me like a wad of chewed gum.

“There could have been a Hollywood scout out there, you know!”

Shirley thought there could be a Hollywood scout out there every night. As if they’d be cruising the chorus line of That Girl From Scranton! instead of the Copa Girls or the Lido Dolls. Shirley paid me a dollar a week to wash out her dance clothes and tights in the sink, because she didn’t want the imaginary Hollywood scout to see chapped hands when he took her out to El Morocco after the show. They won’t be looking at your hands, Shirley, I wanted to tell her. But I kept my mouth shut, because I was currently sleeping on her mother’s couch. Ten bucks a week she charged me.

Even though I talked back to Shirley in my head, I envied her, too. Faith seems to grab people and not let go, but hope is a double-crosser. It can beat it on you anytime; it’s your job to dig in your heels and hang on. Must be nice to have hope in your pocket, like loose change you could jingle through your fingers. Christ, I found myself jealous of everyone nowadays, even dimwits like Shirley.

The roses arrived as we all started in with the cold cream and tissues. The assistant stage manager stuck his arm in with the bouquet. Newly married, he wasn’t allowed to peek. The girls loved that and razzed him every chance they got.

“George, hand me my brassiere, will ya?”

“Georgie, zip me up, be a honey!”

“Come on in, we’re decent — we just ain’t dressed!” Nancy, the quiet one with the fiancé, handed me the flowers. “Pretty,” she said. “He didn’t buy these in the subway.”

No flattery, no snow job on the card.

I’d like to take you to dinner. Nate Benedict

No pleases or thank-yous, either. I tossed the card on the counter and bent over to fasten my stockings. I didn’t want them to see my face. I’d get enough teasing as it was. My fingers were shaking and I couldn’t manage the garter.

“Ooooh, Kit’s got a hot one,” June said.

“What about that boy you’re still sweet on? The one in the army?” Edie asked. There was a hard edge to the question. Edie stared at herself in the mirror, leaning forward to reapply her lipstick. She was older than all of us, probably thirty, some of the girls whispered, but she would only admit to twenty-four. I was seventeen and told everyone I was twenty-one.

“Anybody got a pen?” Shirley trilled. “Kit’s got to write a Dear John to the poor sucker.”

I’d only been slapped in the face once in my life, but I still remembered the shock of it. If only I could’ve passed on that feeling to Shirley, special delivery. On one long cold ride home to the Bronx, I’d mentioned Billy to Shirley, and had regretted it every minute since. Shirley had blabbed to the rest about my sweetheart in the service. Most of the girls respected that — you didn’t razz a girl if she had a guy in uniform. They knew he’d be shipped to Korea after basic training. But Shirley didn’t believe there was a topic you couldn’t poke at. It could be the day of your mother’s funeral, and she’d tell you to change your hat.

“Nah, I