She stares at a revolver, a dull look in teary eyes. Alone in a rented room, still in her late teens, MaryLee sits on a rickety kitchen chair. That chair, a scarred wooden table, rusty steel-pole bed and a dresser containing only two of three drawers, and the revolver -- her Savior -- are her only companions. It’s not quiet, sounds of traffic and revelry from a dance hall next door help prevent clear thinking. But, then, so do random thoughts whipping through a troubled mind. Nowhere to go to escape a murder charge.
Foregoing light from a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling in favor of that from a flashing neon sign outside, she sits in contemplation. The broken sign advertises the cheap transient hotel and flashes alternately in green and red. If she moves her head slightly, a broken section throws a bright white radiance into her eyes. MaryLee doesn’t bother to shift her gaze in avoidance.
The girl has been sitting for hours, moving only to pour a stream of cheap whiskey down a sore dry throat. On several previous nights, the tears flowed -- but not now. It’s too late for tears. Far too late for apology or regret.
This time she will do it, end her existence. With no money and due to be evicted tomorrow, time has run out. Tears and emotion gone, she’s worn to the bedrock of a damned soul. Building up resolve, she has vowed to go over her life ... one last time.… Not for an alternate solution. None are available. She’s simply trying to make sense of an impossible situation. Starting near the beginning, she sips straight from the bottle, relaxing to recall how….
“Honey, Julie called to remind you about the movie tonight,” her mother informed her as MaryLee returned from the library with a stack of books.
Plopping the load down onto a table in her room, she replied, “I know, Ma. Us girls want to see that new show, ‘Spellbound’ with Ingrid Bergman. It’s supposed to be the best movie of 1945.”
“Is that the one with Gregory Peck in it, honey?”
“What’s the matter with fifteen-year-old girls today?” Her mother laughed. “I thought he was the current heartthrob?”
MaryLee didn’t answer; the door to her room had already closed. She hurriedly changed clothing, putting on a little makeup. Not enough for her mother to make her take it off but enough to brighten her face and hide acne spots.
At an age when most young girls took an interest in boys, MaryLee found herself attracted to Julie, another girl in their neighborhood of lower-middle-class housing.
Even back then, she sensed that she was different. Her fantasies were about her own sex. Sure, some boys were interesting -- but not the ones who were interested in her. It wasn't a problem, since she got along well with the other girls in school and had learned to control her feelings. She had almost been made class president the year before, losing by only a few votes.
The girl went downstairs and out the back door, just in case -- so her mother wouldn’t see the makeup. She hurried to Janet’s house. They were to meet out front.
“Hi, MaryLee. I like that pink lipstick. How did you get permission? My mother would never let me use the stuff. Says I have to wait until I’m eighteen.”
It was Verna, a short stocky girl.
“Hi, Verna. You look nice today, just as you are. You got that math homework done yet? I could really use a copy. I can’t understand that x minus y add z stuff.”
“I can teach you if you want?”
“Na, this is the last of it. We go on to something else next week,” MaryLee said. “I don’t need it in real life anyway. Let me copy yours, okay?”
“If you want, but make sure you screw a couple up so it don’t look like you copied.” Verna shrugged, glancing down the sidewalk. “Here comes Julie now.”
As she saw her friend coming, MaryLee tried not to stare though still noticing the way the girl walked, the set of her smile, and just waiting to see into her eyes. MaryLee shook her head to clear it; she was becoming excited. Not a good thing.
“Hi, gang. Like the lipstick, MaryLee.” Julie plopped her butt down on the steps. “What’s keeping Janet? There’s going to be a line if we don’t hurry.”
MaryLee sat close to Julie, imagining she could feel heat emanating from the other’s thigh. She longed to put her arm around the girl, but had to be careful. Fantasy was one thing but the “real world” was something else. In the year 1945, “gay” had different connotations, even the thought would be simply “queer”. Houses had many closets in those days, filled with perceived baggage; excess, useless, and unwanted by society....
In a lonely hotel room, MaryLee picks up the revolver … once again. She knows little of guns, except from movies and playing with cap pistols. It's heavy, a lot heavier than her cap guns were. She gives a thought to pulling the trigger, to see if it works or not.
Na. If she does, someone might come in or the bullet thing might go through the wall and hurt an innocent stranger. She has to remind herself that some people are still innocent. At the very least, it will scare her -- maybe enough to change her mind. She has changed her mind too many times already. If she had only been able to be like other people? People without evil perverted secrets, herself stumbling into a dark abyss while they walked in blessed sunlight....
After graduation, MaryLee had taken a waitress job at a local restaurant. She remembered the starched green uniform, skirt coming down to above her knees. Her mother hated to see her wearing it in public. She'd worn long socks and black shoes -- had to furnish her own shoes -- with a cute little square hat sporting the restaurant's logo pinned to her hair.
She also recalled that cute little bastard of a white apron in the front. It became dirty every ten minutes, and she'd only been issued three, meaning washing them by hand every night. And don’t forget the sore feet and tired back and legs. Not a very nice job but the only one she could find in the small town of five-thousand people.
The only jobs available to a recent high-school graduate were that type. If you were very lucky, and a boy, you might get into the Ford Plant outside of town. The only women they hired there were for cleanup or office work. A Home Economics major in high-school, she had little choice. She'd never learned to type and the "Plant" only wanted older, more dependable, women for housecleaning.
Even farm work was out, since the farmers brought their labor in from Mexico. A Home Economics major was fit only to marry and keep house, raising more kids to repeat the disgusting process. At that time and place, unless your parents had money college wasn’t even a dim dream. A life of drudgery was the norm.
“Watch it, MaryLee. That guy, Sam, just came in and sat at one of your tables.” Julie grimaced.
At least her special friend had worked there too. It was the only thing that made the job bearable. MaryLee still had the hots for Julie, but with age came understanding. Although the girl still filled MaryLee’s midnight fantasies she had learned to be content with only a friendship.
“Damn!” MaryLee groaned. “My butt’s just now getting over his last pinch.” Sighing and rolling her eyes at her friend, MaryLee went over to the new customers, offering menus which were refused by regulars.
“What you guys want today?” She was careful to stay out of Sam’s reach. He always managed to sit next to the lane between table sections so that she had to go by him when delivering to the back tables -- luckily empty at the moment.
“Gimme a hamburger steak dinner, extra fries, MaryLee honey,” Jerry gave his order.
“You want black coffee with that? Right, Jerry?” She wrote it down on her pad. The girl had to use a special shorthand or the cook couldn’t understand it. He was Mexican and didn’t read much English. She looked out of the corner of her eye and could see Sam flexing his fingers, getting ready.
“Yeah, you got it girl," Jerry replied as she turned to Sam.
“And you?” she asked, pencil poised and trying to keep emotion out of her voice.
He smiled innocently and ordered.
“Same, same.” Sam grinned at her, winking. “You know what I want for dessert.”
“You’ll get dessert in your dreams. How about cherry pie, the only cherries you’re getting from me?” She’d remembered reading that line in a book. It caused Jerry to guffaw and Sam to turn red. Damn, they'd never heard it before? MaryLee shook her head in wonder. She went for the food.
Luckily, nobody came in and sat at her back tables, which would necessitate she pass by the horny bastard. She could use the money but could also forgo the pinch attempts.
After Sam and Jerry left, she'd cleaned the table, readying it for the next customer. MaryLee had found that it was better to hurry at that task. If customers sat in the front of her section, it saved her poor feet. If those tables were dirty, they'd go to the back ones. It was only a few steps, but they added up at the end of the day.
“You want'a drink or two and go to the movie tonight?” Julie asked as the two stood at the counter, folding napkins. “Freddy has the second shift tonight and doesn’t get off until eleven.” Freddy was Julie’s boyfriend, working at the Ford Plant.
“Sure. What’s playing?” MaryLee began filling salt shakers for the night shift.
“A good lineup. Two good ones. ‘White Heat’ with Cagney and your favorite, Virginia Mayo. And my heartthrob, Gregory Peck in ‘Twelve O’Clock High'.” Julie sighed. “He’s dreamy.”
“Count on it. I’ll have to go home and change, though. I hate the walk.”
The small town had no buses or even taxis. MaryLee didn’t care much for the six-block walk home from work on sore legs. Then another eight-blocks to the only theater in town.
“No problem. I have Freddy’s car.” Julie laughed. “I told him he had to ride to work with Clarence this week. That I can’t do him any good at night if he don’t.”
Julie drove MaryLee home, she still lived with her parents, and waited in the car as the other girl changed clothes. They then stopped at a bar, “Jim’s Place.” It was right over the county line. They had a couple of drinks to relax from the day’s labor. Julie stuck to her favorite screwdrivers while MaryLee drank four vodka martinis, double her usual thirst for them. She liked the martinis because they gave you a buzz without filling you up.
They sat in a booth at the back of the barroom, a sign to regulars to leave them alone. The girls drank and waited for the second series of movies to begin. It was better than getting there in the middle of a show. MaryLee looked up at a clock on the wall.
“Hey, I forgot about the time. It’s starting about now,” MaryLee blurted out in mock panic. They gulped their drinks and hurried out.
The two girls arrived at the theater ten minutes later, even finding a place to park. The theater opened in the late afternoon for two showings of both films.
The first movie had started about twenty minutes before. They could still figure out what they had missed or ask someone in a seat near them. It was bad to get in after about halfway. By then, you were always behind in the plot and your neighbor wouldn’t want to spend time explaining it.
The two girls hurried into the auditorium and had to sit way in the back. It was the first day for those films with a million people attending. In such a small town, before cheaper television, the theater was very popular.
After the first show, there was an intermission of ten minutes while the projectionist changed reels. It being Julie’s turn to buy the goodies, MaryLee sat, watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon and thinking amorous thoughts about her friend....
She daydreamed of waking in the middle of the night as Julie's head on the pillow next to her shifted, long brown hair sliding under MaryLee's nose, a delicious tickling sensation. Shifting forward, MaryLee pulled her companion's body closer, feeling heat from her paramour's bare breast as it pressed against her own stiffened nipples. Julie groaned slightly as MaryLee's hand stroked a thigh.
“Mmmmm.” MaryLee bent to lick the other girl's neck, working her way downward. Julie helped by raising her right arm, pressing forward as MaryLee's tongue flicked a nipple, the sweet taste of sweat....
“My god, but that confection stand was busy, girl. I had to push and shove to get waited on. And then, then a fat broad made me wait while her zillion kids decided what candy bars to buy.”
Julie plopped down onto her seat, spilling popcorn onto her and MaryLee's laps. “Sorry. Can't help it.”
A little later, feeling the alcohol, also the heat from her friend next to her, MaryLee reached for popcorn held on Julie’s lap. Her hand missed and fell onto a bare leg. Julie had hitched her skirt up for some reason, maybe to hold the popcorn container -- who knows?
Instead of pulling her hand away, MaryLee couldn't resist the urge to let it stay there for a few seconds. Heart beating excitedly, she turned it and squeezed gently. Looking over out of the corner of her eye, she saw Julie staring straight ahead as though the actions were unnoticed. Did she dare?
MaryLee moved her hand, tentatively, closer to a vital juncture.
When there was still no movement, she continued slowly until she felt the hem of Julie’s panties. Nerves threatening to burst through her skin, MaryLee tried to, almost imperceptibly, edge a painted fingernail under cotton cloth – receiving a brief touch of pubic hair for her efforts.
That was when all hell broke loose.
“You fucking queer!” Julie screamed and jerked away, popcorn flying wildly as she jumped up. Standing, her eyes glared down at MaryLee. “Fucking queer bitch.” Julie spat on the floor.
Looking around at staring eyes, a theater full -- thousands of them -- MaryLee heard Julie scream, “What are you looking at me for? Look at the fucking queer bitch.”
When MaryLee looked back, the other girl was already halfway down near the exit, followed by pealing laughter.
MaryLee didn’t know what to do. Her mind wouldn’t work right. She could only crunch down in the seat, heart drumming wildly, threatening to burst through her chest. Eyes filling with tears couldn’t see dim theater lighting. The laughter seemed to intensify like an African drumbeat, shaking the auditorium hard enough to be heard in heaven.
After a while, the laughter and muttering quieted as the audience’s attention returned to the screen. She raised her head, wiping eyes on a sleeve to look around, seeing she now sat in a small island of emptiness, alone in the back of the theater. Nearby patrons had quietly moved away to find other seating.
Not knowing what to do, she sat crying silently and trying to think until the theater emptied at one in the morning. In disgrace, MaryLee crept home through late-night empty streets. Using her key to the back door, she crept quietly up to her room and cried herself to sleep....
MaryLee now sits, tearing eyes fixed on the revolver. The light from a broken neon sign flashes green for envy, envy of others who were comfortably sitting at home, content with life and their sexuality. Then red, red for anger, anger at herself and God for making her "that" way. Also at society for not accepting her for what she was. Then it flashes white, not in her eyes that time; white for the purity she has lost or, condemned by God in heaven ... never had.
The narrow white beam falls on the quivering revolver in her hand, now turned facing her, and on the copper color of exposed bullets, tips showing inside the cylinder.
MaryLee raises it to her face, barrel angled to shine down at dull metal cylinders nestled comfortably inside. One time, in-between attempts, she had taken them out to shine with furniture polish, wanting to become intimate with each one. She'd been trying to discern a hint of personality in at least one of the copper-covered chunks of lead. But they'd only lain there lifelessly and identical -- impersonal lumps of lethal solutions to unsolvable problems.
Gun shaking, she uses both sweating hands to lower it back to her lap. She hasn’t finished. She’s promised herself to go over it one last time....
She had gotten ready for work the next morning, not knowing what else she could do. She needed money to live and had no other options for work. Even in the early fifties, the $200 or so she had in the bank wouldn’t take her very far.
Maybe, just maybe, Julie would forgive her? She had known the other girl forever and loved her almost as long. A life without Julie was unthinkable. Maybe things could go back like before? In her heart she realized it as a vain hope. By then all her friends would know.
“MaryLee, a phone call for you. It’s your boss at the restaurant,” her father called upstairs.
The girl had to hang onto the banister on her way down. Her legs wouldn’t work right. The handset was lying on a polished table below a wall-mounted telephone. MaryLee picked it up with a shaky hand and held it to her ear.
“Mr. Jackson?” she asked, in a whisper. She leaned her forehead against a cool papered wall next to the telephone and closed both eyes.
“I called to tell you I’m sorry, but just don’t come in. I’ll mail you your final check,” Mr. Jackson told her. “It’s policy. We can’t hire girls like you. It would drive away customers or get us the wrong kind. Sorry, MaryLee, but I have to think of our reputation.”
“What about my uniforms, Mr. Jackson?" She sobbed into a cold shaking mouthpiece. "I really need the job. Won’t you reconsider?”
“Sorry, I can’t take the chance." And he did sound sorry. "Keep the uniforms. I won’t take them out of your final pay.” He hung up.
Her life went rapidly downhill. As the word spread, she found she had no real friends. Some were polite but found excuses to stay away and avoid her. A few were downright antagonistic. Former friends had parties without inviting her. People she didn’t even know would seem to be muttering insults or staring at her on the street. Boys and men would openly leer and call out insults.
Even her parents gave her strange looks. Whenever she was on the phone, she could hear someone pick up another extension -- spying on her. She would hear her parents arguing in their room at night, not loud enough to make out words. It hadn’t happened before, before she was found to be a queer.
Of course she couldn’t find another job. She knew better than to use Mr. Jackson’s name on a resume. And any personal reference she gave would be iffy. Even the teachers at the school would know by then.
MaryLee realized she had to get out of town, but to where? It occurred to her that after high-school Verna had left for college and then dropped out. She was still living in San Francisco, somewhere around there anyway. Maybe Verna would help her? It was worth a try. The girl had given MaryLee her phone number; it was around there somewhere.
“Sure, come on down. I got me a couch and we can find you a job.” Verna encouraged her.
MaryLee bought a train ticket for the next day, to San Francisco. Verna promised to be waiting for her at the station.
“No. Absolutely not. You can’t move that far away,” her mother had tearfully objected. “We can’t see you if you move there. Just wait it out. People forget those, you know ... those things. Everything will work out. You’ll see.”
“Maybe it’s for the best, Phyllis.” Her father was more pragmatic. He was getting into arguments defending MaryLee at his work. He was hearing his share of muttering -- as though her being a queer was his fault. What's more, maybe they were right? Maybe he should have been more strict? he thought. It must be from his wife's side of the family, though, he figured. After all, nobody on his side had that evil sickness. “I can loan you a few-hundred to help you get set up? You can pay it back later, when you find work.”
End of section one of three. I’ll IM the rest to you if requested.
hvysmker -- Charlie