Secrets in Lace

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Immigrants, Part Three. Dusty Miller.

Care for a drink, my dear?

Constance 'Dusty' Miller

In her previous life, Maria had scrimped and saved, staying home when the other girls were going out. This was especially true in Paris. If it wasn’t free, she didn’t go. 

Her entertainment consisted of long walks, public places, libraries, endless window shopping, and dreaming by the radio. Her existence had not been entirely joyless, although it had its moments. She’d gotten by with the help of trashy romances and her shows, where the soothing and usually male voice coming in over the speaker quickly became something of an old and trusted friend.

There were various stations, the dramatic shows that she listened to, straining to catch every word, every nuance, every inflection. Her own existence would drop away and she would be transported somewhere else, inside of that theatre of the mind. How much richer this was, as the opening credits rolled. As for William, if anything he seemed a bit jaded, more intent on splurging on vast pasteboard containers of popcorn, sickly in its buttery hotness and threatening to tip over and cover you entirely if you weren’t careful.

The thoughts of two people kissing, with bits of corn kernel stuck between the teeth were distinctly unsettling.

Luckily the theatre wasn’t very crowded. It was quiet other than the film score, there was plenty of elbow room and she could sit her popcorn down on the adjacent seat. As soon as he saw it, he grabbed her left hand in his limp and sweaty palm, with little granules of salt still sticking to the fingers, and wouldn’t let go it seemed for the life of him.


The film was amusing enough. As far as taking her to a movie, that might have been a tactical and strategic mistake on William’s part, for all of his projected sophistication. A couple of hours had gone by, where they really hadn’t spoken a word. Maria, falling completely under the spell of the story, had sort of accepted his hand on hers, without thinking too much of it. Finally, giving him a look, she had pulled it away and gone back to eating her popcorn. She wanted a drink from her soda. How she knew it was a mystery, but she was almost sure he was both blushing and somehow not discouraged or dissuaded. Did he think that mere persistence would ever be enough?

Some men did, and she had always wondered at the psychology of it.

I have selected you, and therefore you shall be swept off of your pretty little feet. If you refuse me, and go with another man, I shall declare you a slut. Honestly, she had no evidence for that. William was as nice as anyone, although she had only limited experience. She must try and be objective.

The film itself was a comedy of manners, a bedroom comedy, and while there wasn’t much choice—the film was changed each day, and tomorrow would be different, but she wondered how much significance it had to William. The story revolved around a notorious womanizer, engaged to be married, but finding it difficult, as pretty much every woman he met threw themselves at him. 

Landing in his car by parachute in the case of one. His psychiatrist, crazier than his patient it seemed, cannot help; for he was busy stalking another character, also hot for the red-hot lover-boy. As far as suggestive fantasies went, it was so obviously written by a man. In retrospect, as the final credits rolled, it would be hard to describe what happened in such a film—it was a careful presentation of applied nonsense, one hare-brained scene after another.

But this was exactly the sort of attitude she was attempting to escape—that world of everyone else’s expectations, where your future consisted of only so many options, only so many possibilities. Once you got to a certain point in your life, the next scene was written for you—

There was no way out except to go through with it.

She was young, a hopeless romantic, and she still had her health—perhaps that was it. She knew no other reality, and nothing had ever really gone wrong for her.

Being with William had the sole benefit of putting Monsieur Khoury’s attentions into focus. She had to admit, that one she kind of liked.

She laughed out loud, and turning, found William’s eyes upon her. There was an unexpected sadness there, as if for a moment he had been reading her thoughts.

She supposed he had, really.

It wasn’t that hard, was it?

Five more days aboard ship and then it would be over.

The lights came up and they stood, brushing off stray bits of popcorn.

“I say, care for a drink?”

She’d been expecting the question.
Her voice was calm, cool and dry.
She was so very, very French all of a sudden, and perhaps a little more intimidating than she really intended.
“Of course. That would be lovely, but only one, William. I really am quite tired. It’s been such a long day, very enjoyable I must say…”
He took her hand and led her out.
One drink, hastily gulped, and the fellow was quoting poetry at her.
At almost any other time it might have worked—it was certainly a novel approach.

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

“Well, that was lovely, William, but I really must be going—”

“Must you?” He laid his hand across her wrist.

She was learning much and in future she really must keep her hands in her lap when the moment 
arose to break it off for the evening.

“I’m afraid so.”

Of course he wanted to walk her back to her room, but on her insistence he stayed out of the lift.

She wasn’t going to get lost or anything or so she assured him.

The last thing she saw was the lost and hopeless look on his face as the lift door closed.


Maria rose early and dressed quickly. She would have a bath later, but breakfast was served in shifts and Mister Blake gave her the impression of one who would sleep late, tarry over the morning toilette and not really get going until he’d had his tea.

She was able to get out of there unscathed and un-accosted, but essentially there was nowhere to run. 
She knew that instantly, as she almost rammed into her grey-suited man with the cane, just coming in as she was going out.

Somehow he knew her name.

“Good morning, Mademoiselle Maria…” He tipped the chirper cap and bowed stiffly, the stick coming off the ground and him tottering dangerously.

She wondered if they ever outgrew it.

“Good morning.”

She turned and began walking, almost sure that Yusuf, Joseph, would materialize in a moment.

When he didn’t, it occurred to Maria that to be alone, to be not working and having nowhere really to go, made for a very long day sometimes. It was a big ship and she would hole up somewhere feminine. On second thought, the hair salon, the esthetician, it all cost money. It might send the wrong message—she wasn’t quite plain enough for some reason.

Sighing deeply, she found a deck chair in a row of unoccupied deck chairs on the shady side of the boat. Dropping into one, she wondered just how long she could hide out here, but of course sooner or later one had to eat, to drink—and to go to the bathroom.

Really, she ought to have brought a book. What a wonderful shield that might be sometimes.


She hadn’t realized she was quite that tired. Maria woke in her deck chair a full hour and a half later. 

The sky had lowered in dull grey clouds, cold and forbidding. The day, which had begun warm and fair, had completely changed. Shivering, she got up to go inside, although thoughts of her cabin, small and airless, were not attractive.

Surprised that Monsieur Khoury had not found her, she was half expecting to run into him. Checking her watch, there was still quite some time until lunch. There was time for a bath, which she had skipped this morning to avoid—

“Good morning, Maria.”

“Good morning, Mister Blake.”

He lifted his hat, blue eyes glistening.

He was about to ask her something, but she beat him to the punch.

“I hope you will forgive me, Monsieur. But I simply must return to my cabin—perhaps we will see each other at lunch.”

Touching him quickly on the sleeve, she ducked past him and headed for the interior of the ship, comparatively warm, bright and inviting compared to the promenade deck in that cold and gusting wind. She didn’t look back, but he would be watching.

She was no longer getting lost on the way to her cabin. Still not seeing Monsieur Khoury, she concluded that he was either indisposed or had found other amusements. The ship had everything from a barber shop to bowling alley, and even skeet shooting at selected times off the back end of the ship. Yusuf really didn’t seem the type for shuffleboard, and she wasn’t the type to go looking for him.

She didn’t think she’d been rude to William.

One must assume that he would get over it.

(End of excerpt.) 

Oh. Our Billion Dollar Giveaway is still going on. (Escape from Bondage, iTunes.)

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