Moira and Delphia lounged on the beach. A blanket laid out beneath them kept the sand at bay. Clouds scudded across the sky and a cool breeze tugged on their hair. A storm would roll in that night. Delphia pulled at the hem of the swimming costume Moira had handed down to her. It felt odd.
“Quick picking at yourself. It looks fine,” Moira scolded. “You need to relax. Look at all these tourists. They don’t have a care in the world how silly they look.”
“It just feels strange,” Delphia replied. She bit her lip and squinted out at the ocean.
“What? You didn’t swim in Iowa?” Moira asked.
“Swimming in the ocean is different…much different,” Delphia was thinking about the muddy duck pond that sat on the edge of the cornfield that she grew up with. Compared to the day when she first saw the ocean with her mother it was much different. That day she had run into the waves with all of her clothes and laughed. The waves tumbled her in the surf, but it had been exhilarating. She climbed out and returned to her mother. The beach matron immediately strode over to them and they were admonished for breaking beach rules. It was not the first occasion that Delphia felt sorely out of place.
“Perhaps I should take you to my hairdresser. Wouldn’t you like that?” Moira suggested. Delphia was dropped back into the present. She had been spinning a tendril of her hair absentmindedly in her hand. She shook her head.
“No, I can’t be spending money on hairdressers, Moira. I still haven’t paid back the doctor yet. Once the season is over, I’m sure he’ll come sniffing around after it.”
“Well, why don’t you ask Micky O. for it? That’s what I would do.” Moira poked her with her foot. “That’s what all the girls do. They run up their dress accounts. Then when a john is all smitten, they play the damsel in distress. The men love being helpful.” Moira laughed.
“No, I don’t think I could do that,” Delphia mumbled.
“I could ask Myrtle if she’ll do your hair. She’s not half bad with a shears and iron…”
“No!” Delphia cut her off. The mention of Myrtle and Micky O. less than a minute apart made her skin crawl. She didn’t like to think of them that way, but it kept burrowing in her mind. Moira narrowed her eyes.
“Are you sore at me for telling you?” Moira asked. Delphia’s lips tightened. “It’s just business. You can’t think so hard on it. Once you’ve had a fling or two, you’ll see how silly you’re being.”
“Silly,” Delphia scoffed.
“You must be really sweet on him if it bothers you so,” Moira purred.
“I don’t know what I think!” Delphia snapped. She sprung up from the blanket and dashed towards the ocean. Moira called after her, but she ignored it. She splashed into the surf and dove into the waves. The water swilled around her. Bubbles clung to her skin. The sounds of the beach muffled in her ears. She felt faraway from the boardwalk, but the thoughts in her head stayed with her. She wanted to believe she knew the real Micky O. and that Moira was mistaken.
Delphia surfaced for air. She treaded water as she stared back at the beach. Moira stood on the water’s edge searching for her. Was she really being silly? Delphia could hardly put a name on what she really felt. She felt conflicted just like the night that her mother had died. Elation and sorrow threatened to tear her in half. Resigned, she slowly made her way back to shore.
“Delphia! You made me worry! You disappeared for so long under the water, I thought you got caught in the undertow.” Moira ran up to her. “And now look at your hair. How are we going to get it dry before your shift tonight?”
Delphia’s shoulders slumped. In her brashness, she hadn’t considered it. She didn’t say anything as Moira led her back to the blanket and sat her down. The showgirl pulled a hairbrush out of her bag and started to brush out Delphia’s hair. The usually talkative Moira was silent as she worked. She had realized her comment had come across as insensitive. She was used to the banter of the showgirls. To them, men wanted one thing and a girl could use that to get what she needed. She had forgotten Delphia had had very different experiences than the showgirls. Moira put a hand on Delphia’s shoulder and squeezed briefly.
“I’m sorry,” she said quickly, before returning to her brushing.
“I don’t know what to do,” Delphia mumbled.
“Stop thinking about it for one,” Moira began. “Don’t let yourself get carried away thinking about houses with picket fences and weddings. We aren’t a part of that world. Chances of ever reaching that are slim for girls like us.”
“Girls like us?” Delphia asked.
“Yes, girls like us. We’re on our own. We work from Mr. Sicero. We aren’t surrounded by honest men. Only honest men have their minds set on picket fences.”
“Okay, what’s second?” Delphia frowned.
“Second?” Moira thought for a moment. “Take your heart off the table. It isn’t for sale, but your attention is. We live in a tourist town. We have the season to rake the money in, then we have to make it last through the winter. I usually have four to five beaus during the summer, sometimes at the same time.”
“How do you make that work?”
Moira stopped brushing to think again. “How to schedule multiple dates and fake headaches might be a lesson for another day.”
“No, I meant…How do you get them to give you money?” Delphia clarified.
“Oh! Well…it’s not that simple. They often don’t give you their money clip until their really invested and that can take months. You have to work up to cold cash. The payoff is in the gifts. They’ll usually start with flowers. Flowers are pointless, then they die. I like to drop hints that they don’t last long to new suitors. If they don’t take the hint to buy something more permanent, I’ll stop taking their calls.” Moira put the brush aside and started to plait the hair.
“Just like that?” Delphia tried to turn her head and look at Moira, but the showgirl planted a hand on her head and forced her gaze back to the ocean.
“Just like that,” Moira said. “If they buy you a necklace, say you don’t have earrings to match. If they buy you a dress, say you need a fur to stay warm. If they buy alcohol, slip them a mickey and stash the unopened bottles. They’ll wake up with such a headache they’ll believe they drank them all. While they’re asleep you might as well slip a bill out of their wallet too. Not too much to notice though.”
Delphia laughed, “And if they buy you a ring?”
“You run,” Moira joked. “The game is up if you don’t. Who wants to be stuck at home like that? As soon as he’s bored with you, he’ll be back down at the Cabaret looking for a new piece.”
“So you don’t believe in love?” Delphia hugged her knees to her chest.
“Hmmm,” Moira pursed her lips. “Love is…love is fun, but it’s fleeting…it’s not forever. Not for me at least.” The girls fell silent for a few minutes. Moira finished braiding Delphia’s hair and pinned it up. The waitress turned to face her.
“What do you do with all those gifts?” she asked.
“I sell them. Sometimes back to the store, sometimes to lonely housewives that can’t afford full price. I’ve had the same necklace bought for me three times. The shopkeeper only gives me 75%, but he doesn’t mention anything to the gentlemen.”
“And you think Micky might do something like that?” Delphia asked cautiously.
“I think so. If what you told me is true, you’re in a prime spot to try it.” Moira began to put her things away.
“How?” Delphia moved to start folding the blanket.
“You need to keep cool and don’t be too available, like how you turned him down when your mother was ill. They love the thrill of the chase.” Moira picked up her espadrilles. “Soon he’ll be asking what he has to do to get you alone again.” They started crossing the sand back to the boardwalk.
“But now that my mother’s passed…” Delphia clutched the blanket to her chest.
“Aha!” Moira chimed, “I got it! It’s so simple!” She looped her arm in Delphia’s and whispered her little plan. Delphia had to agree that it was simple.