Eventually She Will Crack
‘Wait, you got fired again?’
‘Yes. Do you have a lighter?’
Beverly reached over from the driving seat and sun in her glove compartment. She found a small silver lighter and handed it to Margot.
‘Thanks,’ said Margot, opening the car window and lighting the tip of her cigarette.
‘What for this time?’ Said Beverly, chancing glances between the road ahead and her sister in the passenger seat.
‘Punched my boss.’
‘You what?’ Beverly’s shock took form in a lasting gaze at her sister, one that lingered a second too long, causing her to swerve violently off the curb and almost hit a mailbox.
‘Watch it, will you?’ Said Margot, clutching the door handle.
‘Did I hear that correctly? You punched your boss?’
‘Yes, Bev,’ mumbled Margot. She could feel her older sister’s blazing blue eyes searching her like a floodlight seeking out rogue prisoners. ‘He put his hand up my skirt!’ Said Margot, finally.
Beverly furrowed her brow. Her magenta stained lips opened and closed a few times, but she remained silent. Margot rolled the window open wider and laid her head against the edge, feeling the summer breeze flicker her hair. She had baked under the scorching sun while waiting for her sister to pick her up outside the tall glass building on Madison Avenue. The incident had occurred so quickly, all she could really remember was seeing the headline of newspaper on her boss’s desk:
August 14, 1958. Manhattan Under Siege of Record Breaking Heat.
Rather than ride the subway back to her apartment in Brooklyn, she called Bev from a payphone and requested a ride. Within the hour, Beverly pulled up the to curb among a stream of taxis in her husband’s new crimson Chrysler.
‘Well, that’s certainly awful,’ said Beverly. ‘But, Margot..’
‘What?’ Said Margot, watching a young boy run along the sidewalk at the helm of his golden retriever.
‘You know you needed that job.’
‘I know I did. But I also know my worth.’
‘How are you going to pay for that apartment? You should’ve just stayed with Harry and I. We had that room all set up-‘
‘What and listen to your baby cry all night? I’m sorry, Bev, but you know I like to work at night.’
‘Work? Oh you mean that - that journal? God, I certainly don’t miss the clacking of that typewriter.’
‘They’re not journals. They’re stories. And it is work. It’s work that I actually care about. I don’t want to be some flimsy secretary waiting on those awful men my whole life.’
‘I was a secretary! That’s how I met Harry.’
‘Oh, I know,’ said Margot.
‘All I’m saying is you have to start somewhere. You could’ve met your husband at that job and then never have to work again. Like me.’
‘God forbid,’ mumbled Margot.
‘Look, what are you going to do for rent?’ Said Beverly as the car halted outside the low brick building where Margot lived. She turned toward her sister.
‘I suppose I’ll have to ask Mom,’ said Margot, sighing.
‘She won’t be happy, said Beverly, checking her reflection in the rearview mirror. She puckered her pink lips and cupped her hands under the buoyant blonde curls that hung just above her collarbone.
‘You know, it’s not as easy for me as it is for you,’ said Margot.
‘What do you mean?’
‘You know what I mean.’
After lunch, Margot called her mother to inform her of the news.
‘Oh, Margot,’ sighed her mother.
‘Yes, I know. I hate to call like this.’
‘Well, sure. Your father and I can help. But this is the last time. You need to learn to control your anger. Shall I set up another meeting with the pastor?’
‘No, that won’t be necessary,’ said Margot, twirling the phone cord in her hands.
‘Well, if you’re not going to do that, I want you to attend a luncheon for the ladies.’
‘A what?’ Said Margot.
‘Luncheon for the ladies. It’s a monthly get-together for some of the younger ladies in the Club. Bev usually goes, but she’s been too busy with the baby. You know, the Club struggles without an Elliot presence.’
‘I sincerely doubt my attendance would alleviate that.’
‘It’s next Sunday. Borrow a dress from your sister. I don’t want you going in those rags you call clothes.’
‘Mom, I really don’t-‘
‘Margot. You do this or no help from us. For crying out loud, it is just a luncheon. Those women are very well connected, you know.’
Margot hung up the phone and leaned against the fridge. Wiping the sweat from her forehead, she opened the fridge and dipped her face into the cold. The sweat trickled down her face as she made her way down the hallway into her bedroom. She yanked open the window, as the jeers and laughter of children playing the streets carried up the three stories.
She unzipped her dress and crawled out of it, eager to shed this unwanted skin. She kicked it to the corner of her room next to a suitcase still unpacked from the spring. She made her way to the bathroom, grabbing a small rag and dousing it under cold water from the sink. Wringing it of excess water, she slapped it on her face and sighed from relief. She was reminded of the summer of 1952 when Hidden Hills found new residents in the Elliot family. Roger Elliot was translating his professional promotion for a large four bedroom house in the affluent suburb just outside Manhattan. It is there that he and his wife moved with their two teenaged girls, one blonde, boisterous and blooming in her adolescence, the other, meagre, moody and muddling through hers. Margot spent that summer lounging by the fountain in the neighbourhood park, always a bottle of Coca Cola at her side. She met Joy that summer. The girl with the auburn hair to her waist and eyes green like emeralds who had appeared before Margot like a magnificent mirage and asked for a sip of the sweet, syrupy soda. Margot had dipped her feet in the fountain pool one afternoon, only to learn through Joy that she was immersed in water tainted by Timothy Taylor’s urine. Joy laughed as Margot grimaced at the repugnance of Timothy and in fact, of all the boys in the world.
The following Sunday, Margot grudgingly dressed in a purple laced number she borrowed from her sister. The dress, which accentuated Beverly’s figure, fell rather flat on her, like a musical note sung in the wrong tempo. Margot rode the subway into the city to Tally’s Tea Room, an establishment commonly referred on the tongues of the women of the social club. Margot lingered outside the window, anchored by her hesitation. She checked her reflection, smoothing down the flyaway stands too excited by the sweltering heat. Her face shone pallid and wet, especially against the starkness of her black hair. She wondered how she would look after a bottle of blonde dye.
‘Margot Elliot!’ Sung Mary Walton, throwing her arms out and dissolving Margot in her perfumed embrace. A tall, striking woman with broad shoulders and piercing eyes, Mary Walton wore an extravagant canary yellow dress with a matching hat the tilted, as to reveal only half of her glossy, porcelain face.
‘Hello,’ said Margot, mustering a smile.
‘Well, how long as it been?’
‘Few years, I expect,’ said Margot.
‘I think the last time I saw you was back in school, wasn’t it?’
‘I think you’re right.’
‘Well, let me look at you!’ Mary held Margot at arm’s length and cast a slow vertical glance up and down her body. Her smile flickered as her gold lined eyes scanned every inch of Margot’s humble physical offerings. Margot knew what she was thinking. She was a stale teething biscuit smothered in sickeningly sweet purple frosting.
‘Anyway, come along,’ said Mary, linking her arm in Margot’s and leading her through the maze of small circular tables. ‘We’re just over there near the back!’
Surrounding the largest table in the room was a collective of women dressed in similarly dramatic outfits to Mary. Voluminous hats decorated in feathers, ribbons and lace were coupled with jewel toned dresses and matching satin gloves. Margot felt like Alice, suspended in a Wonderland crawling with Mad Hatters who survived on hollow conversations of husbands, child rearing and gossip.Though she folded her hands neatly in her lap and offered a polite, she struggled to keep her eyes open in the hot haze of perfume and saccharine scents.
‘We had to let our girl go,’ said Patty Molson, blowing steam from the top of her tea cup. ‘She keeps asking for Sundays off, but with Carson working extra in the city, I need full time help.’
‘Mmm, mhmm, mmm’, echoed the women in unison, nodding their heads in synchronicity.
‘Robert’s just bought a place in the city as well,’ said Linda Donaldson. ‘Our boys, they do work so hard, don’t they?’
‘Mmm, mhmm, mmm.’
Margot found herself drifting in the dreariness, when, a sudden draft from the front of the shop, accompanied by a tinkling of the door awoke her. She turned to find a woman running towards them, nearly knocking over a waiter carrying a tray of cakes.
‘Gosh, sorry!’ She breathed, laughing. He blushed as she laid a white gloved hand on his shoulder. With her long neck, dark eyes and light blonde hair pulled back in a loose knot, Margot thought she looked rather like a swan.
‘Oh, look who’s here,’ said Mary through her teeth.
‘Surprised she made it,’ said Patty under her breath. ‘Eve!’ She chirped as the woman arrived at the head of the table, gasping.
‘Sorry I’m late, ladies!’ Said Eve, peeling the white gloves off her hands and tossing them on the table. Margot chuckled as one of them landed in Barbara Atkins’ cup.
‘Not at all,’ said Barbara, frowning slightly as she pulled the glove out by one of the fingers and laying it down at Renee’s place setting.
‘It’s a scorcher, isn’t it?’ Said Eve, dabbing at her neck with a napkin and taking her spot across Margot. They eyes met for a moment before Margot, not unlike the waiter, blushed and dropped her gaze.
‘Indeed,’ said Mary, rolling her eyes straight into the dregs of her tea.
‘So,’ said Eve, reaching across the table and selecting a a few cucumber sandwiches from the tray. ‘What’re we all talking about?’
‘Well,’ Mary cleared her throat and flipped back her hair. ‘Patty’s just had to fire her girl. So hard to find reliable people these days.’
'Mmm, mhmm, mmm.’
‘Have you hired someone yet?’ Said Patty.
‘Me? Oh no,’ said Eve. ‘Don’t need it.’
‘Even after…’ said Linda.
‘The divorce?’ Said Eve, a smiling creeping on her face.
‘You’re divorced?’ Said Margot, the words tumbling out of her before she could stop them.
‘Yes,’ said Eve, biting the tip of her sandwich. ‘It didn’t last very long. Just long enough for me to find out why he’d been spending all those late nights in the city.’
A nervous shifted spread around the table, ending and beginning with Mary who coughed lightly and called for the waiter to bring more tea. He lowered a tray carrying a teapot, and several saucers, the contents of which Eve dipped her finger and brought to her tongue.
‘Mmm, Chantilly.’ She said, exchanging a smile with Margot who burned her mouth on a fresh pour of tea.
‘Would you like one?’ Eve leaned against the hood of her car at the corner, halting Margot from her walk back to the subway.
‘Sure,’ said Margot, joining Eve by the Buick. She took the cigarette and held it to her mouth while Renee leaned in and put the flame to the end. ‘Thank you.’
‘So, you’re new to the Club,’ said Eve.
Margot nodded. ‘Favour to my mother.’
‘Ah. Bev’s sister, right?’
‘You two are so different.’
‘I’ve been told that.’
‘That’s not a bad thing,’ said Eve. ‘I suppose that’s her dress too?’
‘Oh,’ said Margot, crossing one arm against her chest. ‘Is it that obvious?’
‘No, you look nice,’ said Eve. ‘Just doesn’t look like something someone like you would pick out for herself.’
‘Someone like me?’
Eve smiled, then squinted her eyes against the blinding sun. ‘This heat is unbearable. I can’t stand it.’ She rummaged in her purse, pulled out a pair of cat-eyed sunglasses and perched them neatly on her nose.
Margot looked up at the sun, cupping a hand over her eyes.
‘Are you hungry?’ Said Eve suddenly.
‘We just ate,’ said Margot.
‘Oh, please. My cat eats more than that. Don’t tell me you got full from those little cucumber things?’
‘I guess not,’ said Margot, laughing.
‘Come on,’ said Eve, crossing to the driver’s seat of the convertible. ‘Hop in! Do you like burgers?’
‘I know a great little place. It’s a bit of a drive though, do you mind?’
‘No,’ said Margot. ‘I don’t mind at all.’
Off the road that bridged the city from the suburbs was a quaint diner called “Lucky’s”. Margot waited in the car at Eve’s insistence to order the food for them. Margot’s eyes crawled about the car, gathering as much evidence as she could in her attempt to explain the enigma that was Eve. A napkin with a lipstick imprint sat crumpled at her feet. Behind her, in the backseat, was a pair of kitten heals, newspaper and a road map.
Eve stood at the front of the restaurant, waving her over.
‘There’s a table under some shade back her. I think it’ll be more comfortable than the car, don’t you?’
The women took their trays and headed to a small table behind the restaurant, covered by the shade of a birch tree. Eve removed her glasses and laid them on the table next to her purse. Under the shade, the outer rings of her eyes glittered hazel under long curled eyelashes. She tucked the loose strands of her hair behind her ears and wrapped her thin fingers around the burger. Margot thought it was rather charming; the heaping sandwich in such delicate hands.
Margot picked up a fry and nibbled at the end. Eve pushed the tray towards her.
‘You have to try the burger and tell me what you think.’
‘Fine, fine,’ said Margot, carefully unwrapping the foil. ‘Wow, it’s incredible.’
‘Isn’t it? Oh,’ Eve grabbed a napkin and reached across the table, dabbing Margot’s mouth with it. Margot, startled, flinched and darted backwards.
‘Sorry,’ said Eve. ‘You just had a bit of…Sorry,’ she handed the napkin to Margot.
Margot wiped her mouth, careful to avoid Eve’s eye. She hadn’t meant to recoil at Eve’s touch. It just happened so quick, like burning her mouth on hot tea.
’So, how do you know Mary and the ladies?’ Margot said, finally spurred by her mounting guilt.
‘Through my ex-husband. He grew up with them. I think that’s why they resent me so. A lot of them were hoping they would be Mrs. Michael Murphy.’
‘How did you meet him?’
‘Through work. I used to be something of an actress. He cast me in my first commercial. I was so flattered back,’ she laughed and shook her head. ‘Now, I realize that that was just his hunting grounds and I was just another doe-eyed fool.’
‘Do you still act?’ Said Margot.
‘No,’ Eve wiped her hands with a napkin and crumpled it into a ball. ‘That ended after I had my son.’
‘Oh. You have children?’
‘Just the one. He wasn’t planned.’
‘I see. Happy accident I guess, then.’
Eve paused. ’Yes,’ she said, quietly. ‘Very happy.’
Margot unscrewed the cap from her soda bottle and took a sip.
‘Funny story. My first ever commercial was for Coca Cola,’ said Eve, her eyes resting on the bottle in Margot’s hand.
‘Really? Must feel a little special every time you drink it now.’
‘A little bit. You always remember your first, after all.’ Eve nudged Margot’s foot with hers. Margot wondered whether this was intentional or not. Regardless, she felt tickled by the feather of a familiar bird, one that hadn’t visited her in a long timed, and yet, one that she recognized immediately.
‘Would you like some?’ Margot handed the bottle to Eve, who took the bottle from her and raised it to her lips.
‘So, what do you do?’ Said Eve, taking a long swig.
‘Oh. Well.’ Margot looked up, searching the sky as if the answer would fall out of it. ‘Not much of anything right now.’
‘That sounds lovely.’
‘It’s pathetic, isn’t it.’
‘No, really! You’re not tied down to anything. You’re free to explore, learn, do whatever you want. It’s where every girl ought to be. Not in some stifling tea room sucking on sugar cubes with women drunk on their own misery.’
‘Why do you go to those things, anyway?’ Said Margot. ‘You’re quite different from them.’
‘Honestly, I go for the laugh. They’re so uptight, I like to poke and tease them and see if they break. Chip away at the china long enough, eventually it’ll crack.’ Eve let out a light hiccough and, her cheeks flushing, patted a hand to her chest.
Margot began to laugh. It fell out of her, gaining in rapturous uproar with very breath.
‘What’s so funny?’ Said Eve, staring at Margot.
Margot wiped her eyes with her hands, but every attempt to stifle her laughter simply aggravated it.
‘What?’ Said Eve, now crossing her arms and arching her eyebrows. ‘Are you laughing at me?’
‘No!’ Said Margot, raising her hands and waving them. ‘No. I just-‘
‘I - I’
‘Well? Tell me!’
‘I feel it,’ said Margot, catching her breath and letting the tears trickle down her cheeks.
‘You feel what?’
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Diana! This is an incredible story. The characters and dialogues are painted alive and lures the readers throughout. I really enjoyed the way you have added little humors in between, makes it more interesting. Congratulations! Looking forward to your next story!
This is such a good story! I loved the time period you set it in and the characters, the reader really feel like they know them. They way you wrapped up the story with the play on the word joy was brilliant, mostly because you did it so well, just the right way. Especially since you so casually mentioned earlier that Joy asked for coke and then at the end, Margot offered it. The red thread one could see with this was genius.
Hi Diana, I'm wondering if I could read your story on my podcast, "Unpublished, not Unknown"? It's all about giving voice to indie authors' short stories and spreading their reach a bit further. You retain the credit and I find fun ways to promote you and your story. I'll credit you and link your profile in the show notes. People can listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Youtube, and 5 other locations. If you're in, just go to my website unpublishednotunknown.com and click "Submit Your Short Story". Looking forward to hearing from you! - ...
Love this story ☺️ And loved the time period you chose.