Friday, 23 March 2012

Friday Flash - Speak Easy

Dora sat near the back of the room, a trashy romance novel in her hand, and a glass of cheap lemonade on the table. She paused at the end of each page to glance around the cavernous basement bar. The hotel dated back to 1910, but the current decor screamed 1980s time warp. Even the background music seemed to be stuck in a world of TV infomercials and bad karaoke.

Matches my book, really, thought Dora. All sleazy leopard print and bouffant hair.

She studied the image on the cover. The book’s heroine, Kitten Chantal, was draped across the hero, Steel Grainger. Dora sighed and returned her attention to chapter fifteen’s steamy encounter in the pool house. An elevator muzak rendition of REO Speedwagon’s Keep On Lovin’ You provided the soundtrack.

The song finished, and a saxophone blared into life. Dora started at the sudden change and looked up, expecting to see someone at the jukebox. She couldn’t even see the jukebox through the heavy pall of cigarette smoke that hung in the air. Laughter and raucous jazz filled the room.

Dora stared at the scene before her. Wood panelling replaced the acrylic splendour of the bar, and men in fedoras and women in long gloves filled the room. She looked down at the tall glass of lemonade on the table, now replaced by a martini glass. Dora sniffed the drink, the scent of pineapple and white rum hitting her nostrils.

“Don’t sniff it, honey, drink it!” The woman beside her winked.

“What is it?” asked Dora.

“A Mary Pickford. Don’t you remember ordering it? Jeez, how many have you had?”

Dora put the glass back on the table – maybe she’d try it later. Nigel didn’t approve of alcohol, and she didn’t want to upset him. Although he doesn’t approve of my choice of books, and I still read those, she thought.

Dora noticed her hands as she held the stem of the glass. The swollen knuckles and liver spots had gone, replaced by the hands of a much younger woman. She let go of the glass and examined the slender fingers. She remembered these fingers, and these hands, but she hadn’t seen them in around twenty years.

The double doors at the top of the staircase burst open, and the shrill sound of whistles filled the air. Dora looked up from her new, youthful hands to see a swarm of policemen sweep down the stairs and into the bar. They brandished batons and grabbed at collars as they went. The good time guys and gals scattered, clambering over tables and upturned chairs in their haste to escape the police.

“Come on, honey, seems the party’s over,” said the woman beside her. She grabbed Dora’s arm and yanked her out of her seat.

 The band cut off their song and leapt down from the stage, instruments abandoned as they joined the stampede for the stairs. A man shoved her in the back and she stumbled forward, her elbow hitting a table as she fell.

Dora blinked. She gasped to see the gaudy Miami Vice stylings of the bar, while a bad instrumental cover of Heart of Glass piped into the room from a speaker near the ceiling. She knelt on the floor several feet away from her table, her novel lying open on her seat. She looked around, but saw no sign of the jazz baby who’d pulled her to her feet. The afternoon drinkers ignored Dora completely.

Dora slipped back into her seat, her face flushed with embarrassment. She examined the wrinkles and blue veins of her hands, and sniffed the drink in her glass. Definitely lemonade, she thought.

She looked up to see Nigel making his way toward her. His nylon anorak didn’t look at all out of place in the bar, and Dora found herself cringing to see his neatly pressed slacks and carefully combed over hair.

“Afternoon, love. Didn’t keep you waiting long, did I?” he asked. He planted a dry kiss on her cheek.

“Not at all. Did you find your medication?”

“I did. I’d left it in my toilet bag. Silly me, eh?” Nigel chuckled, and patted his anorak pocket. Dora forced a smile, and closed her book. Steel Grainger would never forget his blood pressure tablets. Steel Grainger probably didn’t even need them.

“But I had a chat with the receptionist on my way down here. You’ll never guess what she told me!”

“I really have no idea.”

“This place was once the site of a Prohibition speakeasy! Apparently there was a major bust, and the whole hotel was closed until the Fifties. What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“I’m just surprised. How fascinating.”

“Come along then, love. Martin’s waiting in the lobby. He’s eager to show his old mum and dad the joys of Chicago.”

Nigel smiled. Dora gathered her coat and put her novel back into her handbag. She followed Nigel across the bar. They reached the double doors, and she imagined a horde of policemen piling down the stairs. Nigel held open the door but Dora gazed down into the cavernous bar.

Sadness bloomed in her heart as she found herself mourning a life that she had no idea she'd lived.

17 comments:

Tony Noland said...

Ah, Chicago, my old stomping grounds... a city where the old are young, the young are old before their time and ghosts vote in every election.

Great atmosphere, Icy.

Tim VanSant Writes said...

Cool flashback to a past life.

Larry Kollar said...

Loved the atmosphere in this. The shifts from now to then to now were seamless. I hope Dora comes to realize that she was lucky to get a glimspe of a different time.

John Wiswell said...

I'd much rather live here, where the police raids only happen on my television. Still, nostalgia was never pragmatic...

Sulci Collective said...

Ah Chicago, were the politicians employed the gangsters as muscle and then in time the gangsters employed the politicians by having them in their pocket. A different world nicely conveyed. or should that perhaps be captured...

marc nash

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

Oh ICY! I just ADORED this. It was so beautifully written - a while back you were wondering what genre to write - I say you can write anything. And I love this sensitive human side to your work. Beautiful.

Michael Tate said...

Very well done piece. I loved how you framed the story with the old woman. It added a real nice touch. Also, wonderful atmosphere you created. Thanks for posting this.

Steve Green said...

Very smooth, Icy. This gave me a bit of a Deja-vu moment, the scene at the end of Titanic when the old lady has died, and walks downs the ship's staircase to meet all of the people who died in the accident.

Brinda said...

I can see why she'd mourn the life she glimpsed for moments - 80s decor - uggggh.Kidding aside I thought this was very well done, Icy.

foregoreality said...

This is great Icy! Pulled me right in, had me sympathising with Dora.

Helen said...

Nice! I liked how she flashed back and yet at the time didn't fully realise it. Great descriptive writing creatingan atmosphere that could be felt by the reader.

Katherine Hajer said...

Loved it! The Heart of Glass mention made me laugh -- I used to have to go through a pedestrian walkway on the way to work that seemed to always have Muzak versions of Bowie's "Changes" or The Cure's "Caterpillar Girl", and I'd shake my fist at the ceiling speakers.

The temporal setting transitions were great. I liked that no-one noticed that she wound up sprawled on the floor in the "present" -- unfortunately realistic.

storytreasury said...

Cool story, Icy. Like how you slipped in and out of the flashback. I would rather live in place with no police raids though!

David Cranmer said...

Wonderful atmosphere in this piece and sharp dialogue.

JC Rosen said...

Really enjoyed this, Icy. Poor Dora, yanked around in time as well as comparing her life to her romance novel. Your transitions between time periods were seamless. It was a fun ride. Thanks!

Oh, and I'll be having a Mary Pickford soon.

Take care,
JC

afullnessinbrevity said...

Seamless transition and would make for a great short film. Loving your work Icy.
Adam B @revhappiness

Icy Sedgwick said...

I'm glad everyone's enjoyed this. It was a story that popped into my head while I sat writing in the Bridge Hotel but thankfully I didn't end up part of any Prohibition police busts.

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