by Marilynn C.
Loosely based on part of my family history; my great grandfather's identity is a mystery!
|Helen buttoned her red wool coat, put on her hat, and stepped out into the night. It was 1926 and Seattle’s wet streets shone from the reflection of brightly lit lamps and signs.
The door of her red brick apartment building slammed shut behind her. She turned and started down the street, with light, quick steps.
Helen’s breath clouded the air in front of her as she hurried down the sidewalk. She wore heels and tried to step over and around puddles as she went. A Model T drove past, its tires hissing on the saturated concrete, and she heard a woman’s laughter coming from inside.
She passed restaurants overflowing with people, women in low-waisted dresses and men in tailored suits, laughing and dancing, and smoking. The sound of jazz music filled the air and Helen kept walking. Charlie would be waiting for her on 5th Avenue.
It was the opening night of the 5th Avenue Theatre, and the city was alive. Helen saw spotlights waving through the sky. As she neared 5th Avenue, she jumped as flare guns went off from surrounding rooftops.
She climbed the hill to 5th Avenue and was suddenly enveloped in a lavish street fair. Flags hung overhead and Klieg lights illuminated the masses milling around her. Helen had never seen so many people in one place in her life.
She started to look for Charlie. She weaved among laughing, imbibed people, some impeccably dressed, others in everyday work wear. Flare guns were still going off above. The crowd and the lights created some warmth, and Helen unbuttoned her coat.
Helen approached Seneca Street, and spotted Charlie standing on the corner, his hat pulled low, coat collar turned up, smoking a cigarette. A light, misty rain started to fall.
“Hi Charlie,” Helen said, walking up to him, and he held his cigarette in his lips and took her hands.
“Hi there, sweetheart,” he said, his words muffled by the cigarette. “Quite a party, eh?”
“Yeah, look at all these people… so many people.” She smiled and her eyes shone for a moment. She looked at Charlie’s face and her smile faded as she thought about what she was going to have to tell him.
A band had set up on the sidewalk near them and started to play. The people in the street started dancing and shouting to the music. Helen had to shout above the noise. “Charlie!”
“We have to talk. I need to tell you—”
Charlie nodded and took her arm, and they weaved through the crowd, past singing, laughing ladies with feathers in their hair, and jolly, red-cheeked men dancing with them. They walked to the corner of 4th and Spring, tucked themselves into a pocket of darkness in a doorway, and embraced.
“Oh God, Charlie…” Helen murmured against his neck. “Oh God, what are we gonna do?”
Charlie flicked the end of his cigarette into the street. “What do you mean? What are we going to do about what?” The spotlights above caught his eye, and he watched them arc across the sky for a moment.
Helen blinked back tears, fumbled in her purse, and pulled out a cigarette. She brought it to her mouth and lit it. She took a deep breath, held it, and blew the smoke out through pursed lips. She watched two groups of young men go past on their way to 5th Avenue, huddled in their coats against the drizzle.
She turned back to Charlie. “I’m going to have a baby,” she whispered. Her fingers shook as she brought the cigarette back up to her lips.
Charlie didn’t react for a moment. He was expressionless. He watched the sky. Then he took a deep breath, and looked at the ground.
Another group skipped by, this one of men and women, talking and laughing.
“Helen,” Charlie said quietly, “Oh no.” He drew his arms away from her and rubbed his face with his hands. “I can’t—we can’t…”
“What are we gonna do, Charlie? What’s gonna happen?” Helen’s tears spilled onto her cheeks. She took a handkerchief out of her purse and dabbed at her eyes.
“What about my wife, Helen? What about my family?”
“You’re going to help me, aren’t you? We’ll have to tell them. We can start over—“
“Start over? I can’t start over! My career, my life! There’s just no way. God, Helen!” He threw up his hands and then stepped onto the sidewalk. He looked at her with sad eyes, and then looked down. Then he turned and started to walk up the hill, back towards 5th Avenue.
Helen’s tears turned to weeping. She threw her handkerchief at his back. “Charlie! Charlie, no! How can you…” She ran after him, tripping over her heels, and grabbed his arm. “Please, Charlie!”
Two women walked by and stared at them, whispering.
He removed her hand from his arm. “I’m sorry, Helen. I’m very sorry.”
Helen sank to her knees on the cold, soaked pavement, and covered her face with her hands.
Charlie turned back to her and took her arms. “Stand up, Helen.”
She stayed kneeling and wept quietly.
He stepped back and looked down at her. “I’ll send some money.”
He turned again towards the lights and music on 5th Avenue. She watched him walk away, then he disappeared into the throng of revelers, and was gone.