The Moonshine Trolley
"Come on, Evey!"
"I'm tired, Delia," I replied, my feet aching from my heels. "Jazz and booze will be there tomorrow night."
"Pretty please," she said, thrusting out her lower lip. I swear that Delia could out-pout any woman west of the Mississippi. It was dark now. The street lights flickered on. It was long past the hour for good girls to be out.
Delia tugged my skirt and motioned towards the trolley.
"If we hurry we can still catch the last car to Martin's," she said. I had underestimated just how much Delia had taken a liking to the Voodoo man from New Orleans. The mysterious Martin had brought jazz with him and had planted it not long after he arrived. It had blossomed overnight and its sweet fragrance had enraptured many young, impressionable woman—Delia being one of them. They said that Martin had a marvelous garden behind his speakeasy—and that he was especially fond of rosebuds.
"I'm a modern woman," I protested. "I don't indulge in such frivolities."
Delia grinned wickedly.
"As a modern woman, that's all the more reason to indulge," she said.
The lights from the trolley flickered in the distance. The sweet hum of electricity from the cable lines filled the night with promise. I caught a whiff of cigarette smoke and moonshine on the wind. I could almost taste it on my tongue.
"I have to be up early," I muttered.
Delia grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the tracks. The trolley lights were now two brilliant, burning stars.
"The office is closed tomorrow," she said through a Cheshire cat grin. We began to run, our feet pounding musically against the pavement. For a moment I was blinded by the brightness of the trolley lights. My feet moved on their own accord on to the steps and into the devil's carriage. Delia handed a dollar bill to the driver and before long we were seated in the rear of the trolley.
A gentleman in a top hat sat in the front row. His gaze fell on the two us as we slipped past him. He tipped his hat and grinned, the white of his teeth flashing invitingly against his dark skin. My cheeks burned and I looked away. It was strange, seeing a colored man be so audacious—even stranger to see one sitting in the front row. The colored folk in town kept to themselves. It was safer that way. Progress is merely a fallacy, after all. As society becomes more progressive, it in turn, becomes even more backward. It was a truth that I had experienced firsthand during my childhood in the slums of Chicago. It was a truth that, in that moment that our eyes locked, united the top hat-wearing gentleman and I. The thought of his black eyes gave me goose bumps.
Delia's fingers wrapped around my own as she looked at me, concerned.
"Y'alright, toots?" she asked. Delia unclasped her purse and shoved a green, tasseled dress into my lap. She shimmied out of her blouse and pulled what appeared to be a piece of red, lacy tissue over her head.
"Delia!" I gasped. I grabbed the flimsy fabric and tugged it down. Was the man in the top hat starring? I glanced forward, my heart skipping a beat.
The front row was empty.
"Where did he go?"
"Who?" Delia asked, tugging off her skirt and pulling the dress over her knees. She sighed as she flung off her heels and massaged her feet. "I apologize for my smelly piggies."
"He was right there," I said. But there was no man in a top hat. The car was empty except for the driver and the two of us.
Delia pinched my arm, hand.
"You need a good, strong drink," she said. Her fingers attacked my hair, removing the many pins so that my long brown hair fell down my shoulders. I did not have time to protest as she tugged the dress over my head and stole my skirt. It disappeared into the black hole that she called a purse.
"Maybe you're right," I sighed. It had been a long day at the office. My eyes must have been playing tricks on me. That, and I had a fertile imagination. Without it, I could not write the stories I so cherished. Even now, I missed the familiar company of my characters. Most nights I spent in front my typewriter, not in pursuit of cold liquor and debauchery.
"I'm always right," Delia declared. I laughed hard and slapped my knee.
"Nice to know that you're having fun at my expense."
"Always," I said, wiping tears from my eyes.
"Anyway, I just knew that green would compliment your skin," Delia said approvingly. I heard the "click" of her purse as she latched it shut. "I wish I had yummy almond skin like you."
"Have you no filter?" I gasped.
"Apparently not," she replied, shaking her own blonde locks loose. She slapped her cheeks, attempting to bring some color into them. "It must be your gypsy blood."
The word "gypsy" pierces the night. For a moment, my mind wanders to my mother and brother. I had run away from them, from own blood. I headed West like so many others, hoping to carve a place for myself as a modern, independent woman. I earned my living as a secretary at a lawyer's office, where I met Delia. In my free, waking hours I wrote, driven by my dream of becoming a first class writer. Lately though, I have been haunted by ghosts from my past. When I sit down to write, I am transported to my mother's parlor. I watch her as she shuffles her tarot cards and reads the fortunes of broken men and women. The smell of incense penetrates my pores. Then, there is my brother, Michael, with his fingers wrapped around the neck of a bottle of wine. His sour breath mingles with the incense until if I feel as though I will suffocate. When I can bear no more, I return to the room that I rent with Delia. Her soft snores are comforting and ward away any more unwanted memories.
"Perhaps," I say.
"Oh, Evey," Delia said, realizing the power that the word "gypsy" held. "I didn't mean to…"
"Its fine, really," I said, playing with the tassels on my dress. "You're right. I do quite like the color green."
Delia smiled triumphantly.
"I told you!"
The soft glow of the city lights was swallowed by darkness as we neared the end of the trolley line. In the distance one could barely make out the twisted limbs of the apple trees of the orchard that safeguarded the edge of town. Further on were the mountains and the many miles of forest that separated Chantelier from the next town over. And, just two miles down the road, was the speakeasy run by none other than Martin Mervieux.