Marjorie’s Story: Let’s start at the very beginning . . .
From time to time on this blog, I’ve posted random scenes from my first novel, which I’m calling You’re The Cream in My Coffee (inspired by this song).
Until now I haven’t been able to share the novel’s opening chapter because it was entered in contests where anonymity was paramount. Now that all the contests have concluded, it’s finally safe to post it. Here, then, is the very first scene of Marjorie’s story.
First off, I need to set the record straight. In a middle-western town the size of Kerryville, rumors have a way of catching fire and burning a hole straight through the truth.
Despite what you may have heard down at Madge’s Cut ‘n’ Curl, the fact that I, Marjorie Corrigan, fainted in the balcony at the Orpheum during the Sunday matinee had nothing to do with the movie’s gruesome Great War battle scenes. Or the steamy romance between an American soldier and a pretty French farm girl. Or the scandalous appearance of a curse word right there in black and white for the whole world to see. It had nothing to do with Myrtle Jamison’s off-tune piano accompaniment, or the refreshment stand running out of Coca-Cola even before the feature started.
Above all, it had nothing—absolutely nothing—to do with my being in the “family way,” a rumor as mortifying as it was untrue. Honestly. I realized the good ladies of Kerryville thought my engagement to Doctor Richard Brownlee had dragged on entirely too long, but spreading malicious rumors was not the way to speed things along.
Here’s how it all began. On an unseasonably warm April afternoon, the theater grew close and stuffy, especially up in the balcony where my younger sister Helen and I were seated. The new air-cooling systems, all the rage in city theaters, had not yet made it to little Kerryville. I pressed my handkerchief to my face and debated sneaking down to the lobby for a cold drink. I knew the picture by heart, anyway. Helen and I had already watched John Gilbert in The Big Parade a few times, as the feature selection at the Orpheum changed with glacial slowness. Still, I hated to annoy people by crawling over their legs in the dark, so I stayed put and watched a favorite scene in which the soldier and the French girl first meet in the village near her family’s farm.
As the doughboy and farm girl flirted onscreen, I mentally recast the scene. The French village became Kerryville, the farm our family’s dry goods store, and the French girl was me, stocking thread and cutting fabric on an ordinary day, when in walks a handsome stranger, ready to change my life forever. What would it be like to have my whole world turned upside down by this stranger, his dazzling smile hinting of adventure and mystery? What if he invited me to run away with him? What if he held out his hand to me and said—
“Stop hogging all the Jujubes.” Helen reached over and snatched the candy from my hand. With a start I snapped back to reality, guilty I’d been caught daydreaming, especially since the stranger in my fantasy clearly bore John Gilbert’s face and not that of my fiancé, Richard. With a sigh I relinquished the sweets. Real life wasn’t anything like the movies.
I tried to imagine Richard in the soldier role, but it didn’t quite work. For one thing, Richard hadn’t served in the war. For another, he was not prone to impulsive romantic gestures. Our courtship proceeded on a steady course, free of drama. Silently I recited his good qualities, a habit I’d acquired of late. Richard was kind. Generous. Faithful. Prosperous. Toss in thrifty, brave, and clean and he’d make the perfect Boy Scout. In fact, he made perfect husband and father material. Everyone said so. If together we seemed to lack a certain, well, spark, then so what? A girl can’t build a future on castles in the air.
At sixteen, Helen still firmly believed in air castles. Beside me she mused, “I wonder if our brother fell in love with any French girls during the war.”
Or if Jack did, I thought against my will, then chased that thought straight out of my head. Remembering my old flame invariably brought on useless comparisons between then and now.
“Not likely,” I whispered to Helen. “Charlie’s never mentioned any girls.”
“Not that he’d tell us, of course. You don’t tell that sort of thing to your sisters.”
“Sssh! Watch the picture.”
Helen fell silent, but she’d seen the movie too many times to become engrossed. Minutes later she whispered, “I wish you and I could travel to France.”
“Maybe we will. Someday.”
She snorted. “You say that now. But once you’re married, we’ll never get to go anywhere or do anything fun, ever again.”
This time the “Sssh!” came from the row behind us.
My sister’s words echoed in my head. Never do anything fun again. All of a sudden, in spite of the heat, shivers that had nothing to do with John Gilbert’s dreamy dark eyes raised goose bumps on my arms. The screen blurred. The flocked-velvet walls closed in on me. My pulse pounded. I needed air.
I nudged my sister. “Come on. We have to leave.”
Helen gaped at me in the flickering light. “What’s the matter?”
The rows of seats rearranged themselves in dizzying patterns.
“Now, please. I’m—I’m not feeling well.”
“I don’t know. I just feel—strange.”
She gestured toward the screen. “But the soldier and the French girl—”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Helen,” I hissed, gripping her arm. “How many times have we seen it? War happens, he leaves, he comes back, they kiss, end of story.”
“Ow. Stop it.” Helen yanked her arm away, swatting the man in front of us. He turned and glared. “Sorry,” she whispered, then to me, “See what you made me do.”
The theater dipped and spun. “I mean it, Helen. I have to leave. Now.”
She peered at me. “Jiminy crickets, Marjorie, you don’t look so hot.”
I stood and lurched over legs and handbags toward the exit. “Sorry. Sorry.”
And the next thing I knew, I was lying flat in the aisle, Helen rubbing my wrist, a pockmarked usher shining his flashlight in my face, and Eugenia Wardlow, the town’s biggest gossip, leaning over me with a look of delighted concern.
Check back for more morsels of Marjorie’s story, coming soon to a blog near you.