Viola lowers the lid with a strange sense of satisfaction as an angry creaking sound fills the air. Even though she has been doing this for as far back as she can remember, some nights are definitely worse than others. Dad really did a fine job on old Mrs. Johnson here—she looks like she is ready to get up and dance.
Dance! A sudden happy memory fills her mind of she and Loll kickin’ up their heels at the dance hall last weekend. That new dance sure is the bee’s knees! What’s it called again? The Charleston?
A sudden chime from the antique Grandfather clock makes her jump up in fright. Just ducky, 9 o’clock already and she still has to finish the entire front parlor. Ma’s not gonna be happy when she finds out I’m going out again tonight, she thinks. Maybe she can sneak out once he gets here, if she can catch him at the front door before he knocks, maybe her mother won’t hear? She sighs dramatically. Ed. He has got to be the most handsome guy she’s ever seen, even dreamier than Francis X. Bushman. How she caught his eye instead of pretty little Loll, she’ll never know. He has the most beautiful hazel eyes she’s ever seen and a thick head of jet black hair.
Black Irish, he’d said he was, as he led her out to the floor. Graceful and surefooted, they fit together like a glove, moving in perfect synchronicity without even having to touch. A snippet of her favorite song flits through her mind “I’ll get by, as long as I have you…” as she begins to sway in time to the imaginary music. He’s perfect in every way, she thinks, now if he can only pass “the test.”
Vi laughs as she remembers the first time she gave “the test” to an erstwhile beau. He’d followed her inside, eager to claim his good night kiss. “Just a moment, Jimmy, can you help me with my nightly chore first?” Man, he hightailed out of here like nobody’s business, slamming the screen door behind him.
Vi wasn’t just any old gal, she was a modern woman of the world, a true flapper. She and Loll were the founders the “Question Mark Cuties” complete with specially made question mark bathing suits in the new, risque style. Many a guy has tried to figure out just what that question mark means, but none have been worthy. She doesn’t have the time or patience for weak-kneed little boys; she is waiting for her very own Valentino to sweep her off her feet, steadfast and true. “The test” was a sure-fire way to weed out the bad ones, and she has given it countless times without any keepers.
She sighs again and heads over to the next coffin, gently pulling it shut over the peaceful face of the distinguished old gentleman inside. She hears a creak somewhere above her in their second floor residence. Is that Ma? She had better hurry! She sprints over to the mirror in the front hallway, pinching her cheeks and fluffing up her short, bobbed hair.
She remembers her mother’s loud sobbing the day she came home with her daring new hairdo. “Viola…your hair!” She can see the look of abject horror on the faces of her sisters and her brother’s amused smile. Her mother angrily shooing her out of the house to go fetch her father at the local watering hole. “Bring him home Vi, you just see what he does!” She had never seen her in such a state, boy was she in trouble.
She slowly walked the three blocks to where her father played poker with his friends. Her ma didn’t like it, but Vi thought he needed a little down time, what with his job and all. He was there in his usual spot, drinking something out of a cracked tea cup. I doubt that’s tea, she thought, smiling fondly at him. He looked up, a momentary shocked expression clouding his face before he smiled at her, resigned to the situation. She is his favorite after all, he could never be cross with her for long. “I see you went ahead with it Vi, I can only imagine your poor mother. Come on, sit with us awhile, I am in no hurry to get back now.”
Vi is snapped out of her memory by a quick rap on the door, he’s here! She dashes down the hall as quietly as possible and pulls the door open without a sound. She is greeted by a single red rose held by a very dashing young man. Vi swallows hard, moves aside to let him enter.
“Hiya kid, you ready to paint the town?” She accepts the rose, looks up into those mesmerizing eyes. She has never seen eyes that color before, she thinks, and swears she can see her future in them. Vi makes an instant decision and takes his hand to lead him out into the cool night air.
“Sure thing Ed, let’s hit the road.” Before she can close the door behind them, he sticks his foot out and heads back inside.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” She watches in astonishment as he goes into the main parlor and begins to close each coffin, one by one. He does it respectfully, looking at each occupant with reverence before shutting them in for the night. His task completed, he turns back and gives her a passionate kiss. She feels weak in the knees, her own Sheik of Araby here at last.
He breaks away and winks at her, “So did I pass?” For the first time in her life, Vi is rendered speechless. “Now, about that question mark…”
Vi couldn’t be sure, but she was convinced that she could hear the strains of “I’ll Get By” gently floating on the breeze as they walked arm and arm out into the night and into her future.
A. Elizabeth Herting is an aspiring freelance writer and busy mother of three living in colorful Colorado. She has had stories featured in Dark Fire Fiction, Bewildering Stories, Friday Fiction, Peacock Journal, 50-Word Stories, and Under the Bed. She recently completed a novel called Wet Birds Don’t Fly at Night that she is hoping to find a home for one day. You can find out more about her on her website or on Facebook.