And Then Something Happened

10 09 2010

And Then Something Happened

Josephine Baker was the prettiest girl on Prennan Avenue. According to her father. She just needed to lose a little weight. Put on a little make-up. Spend that little smile more freely. But, oh how lonely she felt standing in front of the bathroom mirror. A teenager. How strange this new world was to her. Making her feel awkward and ugly and so full of hope. Hope that sometimes made her feel like she wanted to die. Nothing ever seemed to happen fast enough for Josephine Baker.

Most of Josephine’s friends described her as sweet. Josephine did not have enemies. No one got to know her that well. Sometimes she hated herself. Why was she always so very agreeable? Listening closely to any discussion to make sure that her viewpoint did not contradict anyone else’s opinion. Never arguing. Backing down from any conflict. Why did Josephine feel that she could not afford to lose any potential friends? And as a result, she had few friends. People described her as two faced, not because she was malicious or talked behind people’s backs, but because her opinions changed depending upon the company she kept. She was a chameleon. Disappearing into the background. If only they knew.

Josephine graduated from high school with honors and entered college. Studying science. Headed for a career in medicine. It was thought how wonderful it would be if she was the first female to become the county coroner. Josephine took a summer job at the local drug store. Her father, who was a police officer, had connections with Mr. Edwards, one of the owners. Josephine loved working as a cashier. So much so that she considered quitting college and working full time. Her father forbade Josephine from making this decision. Anyone with your I.Q. should not be working in a drug store the rest of your life.

And then something happened. There was a boy. Paul McGregor smiled at Josephine the first day she worked in the drug store. The first moment she walked through the front sliding doors. The first time she walked out of the Ladies’ room wearing her blue and ruby uniform. Josephine had been blind sided, struck by Cupid’s arrow. Working at her cash register, she would glance down the aisle hoping to see Paul. Working. Merely walking by.

I’m mad about the boy. A gay appeal that makes me feel that there is something sad about the boy.

On her breaks Josephine would sneak out to the back of the drug store where Paul went to smoke. She wouldn’t speak to him. Would stand there like she was out for a break of fresh air. Like she was lost in thought. One day Paul offered her a cigarette and she took it. Smoked like she’d be born to it.

Chained her to the cigarette. And the boy.

Occasionally Paul would come up and talk to her and May when business was slow. Paul was a mysterious figure to Josephine. He smoked. He shaved his head. Though it was obvious his hair was red. Like a Russian. His eyes were dark. Like some count. In the court of Catherine. And he liked to read books. The only person Josephine ever met who read Moby Dick for pleasure. And he wanted to be a writer.

If only I could employ some magic that would finally destroy this dream that chains me to this boy.

Josephine wrote as well. Mostly poetry. About romance. And unspeakable crimes against loneliness. Unmentionable acts against decency. She submitted her work to several magazines. And was published. More than once. The publisher encouraged her to write more. And she did. But she kept all this quiet. Her father did not approve of such frivolous activities as poetry. Won’t pay the rent! was his usual refrain to any activity he didn’t agree with. Nor did she tell her mother. The content of her poems would have scandalized her mother, a religious and rather prudish woman.

One day when Josephine caught Paul writing in a small book he always seemed to keep on him, Josephine mentioned that she wrote. Paul encouraged her to bring in some work so  he could read it. She did. When Paul finished reading three of her pieces he just stared at her, his mouth hanging open.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?” she finally asked.

“They’re very… adult.” He smiled awkwardly.

“You think I’m a pervert?” Josephine asked. “I’m taking an introductory course in psychology at college and I have all the symptoms.”

“Is perversion an illness?” Paul asked.

Josephine nodded. “I believe so. It’s in the genes. My father is a police officer, you know. He has all these unresolved conflicts between good and evil. And my mother is quite the prude even though she was a hot number when she was young.  I was born out of wedlock. Conceived in the back seat of a ‘57 chev. Custom built. I have this image of my mother’s left foot dangling out the car window. All of these conflicted traits get handed down in the genes. I’m a mess.”

Paul laughed. “You really know how to sell yourself.”

Josephine looked hurt.

“You are interesting.” Paul added.

“Do you think so?”

“No doubt about it,” Paul responded.

Josephine glared at Paul. “Is that good?”

“It can cause problems.” Paul replied.

“Do you think I have talent?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Paul responded. “Do you think it’s going to rain this afternoon? I didn’t wear a jacket.”

“You lost me.” Josephine threw her cigarette to the ground.

“I’m trying to become a writer myself,” Paul explained, “so it’s not like my opinion means anything.”

Smoke slithered out of Josephine’s lips. He doesn’t like them. She took the poems from Paul and placed them back in the brown envelope that she kept them in.

Paul watched her.

“But I keep writing,” he said. “I go to a writer’s workshop once a month. We read each other’s work and offer criticism. Would you like to come?”

Josephine’s face lit up. She nodded. Then sadness turned her mouth down.

“Would I have to read my stuff?”

Paul shook his head.

“I didn’t even talk the first few times I went to the workshop. Eventually though you get over it. First time I read stuff I kept apologizing. Nothing sounded as good when I read it as when it was written.”

Paul looked at Josephine for a moment.

“What?” Josephine asked.

“You tricked me.”

Josephine reacted with an unsettled smile on her lips.

Paul was angry.

“This is one of your stories.”

She laughed.

“I’m sure, I don’t know what you mean.”

“This,” Paul said raising his hand. There was a knife where there had been a cigarette.

Josephine stepped back. But not quickly enough. The next moment she stared down at her chest. A knife stuck out between two ribs.

“Why?” Paul cried.