This is Part II of a short fiction project on which I have been working. I had planned to post continuing pieces on Mondays but… well I changed my mind. For this to make complete sense, you should read Part I first.
Cynthia had all of her legs firmly underneath her but still couldn’t understand that voice she just heard from her own mouth, or process the mélange of unfamiliar emotions in her head. She took the glass of champagne that Mini offered her, and took a seat on what appeared to her to be an antique chaise lounge – fitting since she was dress shopping in Second Chance Vintage shop.
“Freddie was born around the turn of the century – the prior turn of the century, I mean” Mini began by way of explaining the story of the former owner of the blue halter cocktail dress that Cynthia was wearing more comfortably with each passing second.
“She was one part socialite, heiress type, but two parts scholar, rabble rouser, philanthropist, and ingénue. She graduated from Smith at 19, owned a Speakeasy during prohibition, was a patron saint to half the artists of a generation, and was also one hell of a dancer.”
Cynthia just sat slightly wide eyed while Mini continued with the story.
“There’s a rumor that Picasso painted a nude of her from memory… and then gave it to her as thanks for the memory. She would dance all night at some Harlem juke joint, and then lead board meetings of the family trust in the morning. Gentleman chased her and women wanted to keep their husbands away from her even as they wanted to be closer.”
“Did she ever marry” Cynthia asked despite suspecting not.
“The rumor was that she and a sax player in Duke Ellington’s orchestra fell in love; but that was a bridge to far for her father who was generally tolerant of Freddie’s habit of painting outside the lines. Their courtship was a partially open secret in Harlem, and a closely held one in lower Manhattan. When he died in a car accident, Freddie was devastated – devastated because she couldn’t attend the funeral, devastated because theirs was an unordinary kind of love – and though she was with other men… and a couple of women too, she never was with anyone else long term.”
“That’s so sad” Cynthia remarked while finishing the champagne in her glass.
Without asking, Mini began pouring another glass of champagne and one for herself this time too. “I don’t think Freddie would have thought it sad. She lived the life she wanted, the life she could live, and helped a generation of artists along the way.”
Cynthia paused for a moment before raising her glass. “Then to Freddie” she said.
Mini and Cynthia toasted and then chatted for a good while on all manner of subjects. After some time and a few glasses of champagne had elapsed, Cynthia took her feet and announced “Mini, it has been a delight to meet you and chat all this time, but I am afraid I have monopolized your evening. I’d love to buy Freddie’s dress, and take my leave of you.” Once again, Cynthia was struck by the phrasing which was so unusual for her.
Cynthia changed back into her Khakis and sweater. She noted how silly the heels, worn only to try dresses, look with this outfit. When she emerged from the changing lounge, Mini had her dress wrapped in plastic at the small desk she used as a counter. Cynthia placed her credit card on the desk… still not knowing and mostly not caring how much she would be charged. To her surprise and delight the dress was 20% under her budget. She hugged Mini and promised to stay in touch as she walked out the door.
Twenty five minutes later, just before eight o’clock, Cynthia was sitting on her couch absently trying to read some work report. She just couldn’t stop thinking about the dress still wrapped in the light grey plastic with Second Chance Vintage scripted on the front. She pushed some formerly frozen food around the plate sitting on the coffee table… and thought about the dress. She read the same paragraph three times… and thought about the dress. She made a deal with herself: try the dress on one more time and then get back to work.
She undid the knot at the bottom carefully because she fully intended to place the dress back under the plastic. Once she got the plastic over the shoulders of the hanger, Cynthia saw it. There was a small satchel dangling from the metal part of the hanger; there was Mini’s card with a handwritten “just in case” on it. The other side of the card read:
I thought you should have these earrings as they look lovely with the dress and they were part of Freddie’s estate too. Bring them back after your party, or just send me a check sometime.
Inside the satchel there were a set of gorgeous sapphire and diamond teardrop earrings. “Surely they’re costume” Cynthia reasoned.
She kicked off her slippers, removed her sweater like it was woven with poison ivy, and wiggled the pants past her hips.
“This bra will not do” Cynthia said to her image in the mirror. She rummaged through her panties drawer for one of her two strapless bras. Neither of which got much use. As she slid the dress over her head, she knew instantly that she had to see it with stockings too, and the heels… and earrings as well.
Cynthia stood in the mirror for a pregnant moment and thought “Just a little make-up maybe” before wondering “Where is this voice coming from?” She didn’t spend much time on the notion before applying the very conservative shade of lipstick that is the only one she wore, and running a brush across her cheeks and eyelids.
Back in front of the full length mirror, Cynthia loved everything about this dress and the way she looked in it, and then she was overcome with an irresistible urge to have a glass of champagne. There was none to be had in her one bedroom midtown condo.
“Let’s go to The Fairway Hotel” she told her slightly unfamiliar mirror image.
Cynthia paused for just a moment to contemplate this voice that sounds like her own but keeps saying these unfamiliar things. The pause didn’t stop her from grabbing the smallest purse she owned, which still wasn’t quite small enough for Freddie’s dress, and shoving a few essentials in it before walking out the door.
A cab ride, a few turned heads in the lobby, and Cynthia was sitting at the terrifically elegant bar at the Fairway Hotel. The bartender smiled and offered her a glass of water and a cocktail list. She couldn’t read it without her glasses and it didn’t matter because she knew she wanted “a glass of Pierre Jouet, rosé if you have it, please.”
A few minutes later, a tall gentleman made his way to the bar mumbling in a mix of French and English. “I cahhnnot behlieve zhat my room iz noht readie” the tall gentleman murmured loud enough for Cynthia to hear.
“Il y a des choses pires qu’est forcé à avoir une boisson, peut-être vous devriez trouver quelque patience (there are worse things than being forced to have a drink, perhaps you should find some patience)” Cynthia said.
“Your Franch is very good, whar did jou learn?” the tall gentleman asked.
Cynthia turned a particular shade of lobster red… she doesn’t know French.