“Is that a new dress? It’s very nice,” Micky said as he pulled out Delphia’s chair.
“Yes, it is, well sort of,” Delphia replied as she sat down, “It’s a hand-me-down from a friend. Do you like it?”
“Yeah, I like it, but I’m no connoisseur.” He took his seat. “I think you’d still look beautiful in a dress made from flour sacks.” Delphia started laughing and Micky kept going. “You know, Gold Medal right across your chest.”
“Stop it,” she blushed. Micky had no idea that was pretty much her standard growing up. The waiter came up and told them the specials. They ordered and the waiter swiftly returned with coffee for Micky and lemonade for Delphia.
“That coffee smells delicious, but if I’m going to have any hope at sleeping when I get home I’ll have to pass,” she said.
“I hope you have some good curtains,” Micky commented. He pulled his coffee cup closer to him.
“No, my place is the same as when you last saw it. Right down to the lumpy mattress.” She frowned and traced a finger along the crisp, white tablecloth. “I try to hang my arm over my eyes…to block the light.” The conversation stalled. The mattress reminded Delphia of her mother, her illness and her death. Micky vaguely remembered the shabby room. The idea of a quick afternoon romp fizzled in his mind. He was already checked out of the hotel. Thankfully, the waiter came back with their plates.
“So you’re working at the Cabaret now? Did Sicero arrange that?” Micky asked as he picked up his fork. Delphia chuckled.
“Mr. Sicero? No, I don’t have anything to do with Mr. Sicero,” she said. “My friend, Moira, who gave me the dress…she’s a dancer there. The current seamstress has been complaining about her work load. Moira knows I need the money to pay for…mother’s bills.” She was beginning to lose her appetite.
“Like what?” Micky picked up the pepper shaker. Delphia was poking at her food with a fork.
“I owe the doctor for house calls, the pharmacy and I was a little short for the burial. I think they let it go forward, because I work at a Sicero joint. I barely ate at all that week. Mort would have sacked me if he caught me eating scraps off the plates I took back to the kitchen.” She covered her face with her hands abruptly. “Oh my gosh, I don’t know why I said that…That’s embarrassing.” She tried to keep her hand steady, and repeated Moira’s mantra to stay calm in her mind. “It’s probably a pittance to someone like Mr. Sicero, but I can’t wait to break even. I feel guilty owing money. Especially to people whose whole purpose is to do good.”
“Don’t feel that way. Everyone goes through lean times now and again. Cash gets tight every time I try to go straight,” Micky laughed.
“So the money’s in breaking the law?” Delphia asked. Micky thought about his answer.
“Not breaking the law. No, I’ve never broken the law, Doll. Tiptoe around it? Maybe.” Micky laughed again. “I can’t give you any specifics. The less you know the better.”
Delphia’s curiosity was piqued, but couldn’t bring herself to ask for details. Since coming to the coast, she had often wondered about others people’s lives. She had often sat at the window of her room and stared across at the other windows, watching the families that lived within. The mother hanging the laundry out the window. The wife in her nightgown, smoking a cigarette with a black eye. The children being released into the street to play until supper. The men returning from the docks. She thought those men couldn’t be much different than the migrant workers on the farm, but the tourists at the boardwalk baffled her. She had never gone on a trip for pleasure in her life. The people at the supper club in their fine clothes were easy to part with their cash. She had never seen so many dollars at once before coming to the coast. There was so much she didn’t know. She craved more excitement in her life even if it was vicarious.
“You better catch up on your eatin’ or you’ll get stuck with the bill. I have to be on the road soon if I want to make it back to the Farm before dark. Drivin’ out there at night gives me the willies.” Micky picked up his coffee and took a sip. “It’s too quiet.”
Delphia briefly wondered how long she had been lost in her thoughts, but her stomach quickly reminded her that it had been several hours since she had eaten anything. It growled and she diligently picked up her fork.
“What exactly is the Farm?” Delphia mumbled between bites of food. Micky shrugged.
“It’s the Farm…it’s a farm. What’s there to know?”
“But you live out there?”
“Yeah, there’s a house and some other buildings. It’s surrounded by fields. The neighbors keep to themselves.” Micky pushed his plate away and took out a cigarette. “And you can see the stars from one horizon to the other.”
“Mmm…I remember being able to see them like that,” Delphia murmured. “Sometimes I would sneak out and walk a little way into the cornfield. Just to look up. It was like…there was nothing else in the world except me and the stars.”
Micky watched Delphia as she stared at the ceiling. Her eyes not even seeing the room around her. He waved the waiter over for the bill and pulled out his money clip. He pulled off enough to pay for lunch and got to his feet.
“Alright, Doll, let’s get you home to bed.” He laid a hand on her shoulder and Delphia quickly looked around the room.
“Oh…did I just?” she was at a loss for words.
“It’s alright, let me take you home,” Micky helped Delphia to her feet.
“I’m sorry. I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to keep these double shifts up, but perhaps next time you could call ahead and I could take a night off…” Delphia felt like she was babbling. “I mean if you want to.”
“You have a telephone?” Micky led her out of the hotel to his car.
“No, but I’m at Libelulle almost every evening. You could leave a message with the hostess.” She settled in the passenger seat and Micky shut the door. He came around the other side.
“Now there’s an idea,” he agreed. Micky pulled the car onto the street and drove towards Delphia’s apartment. “What would you want to do?”
“I can’t say. What do people do for fun here?”
Micky started to chuckle.
“What? I’ve done nothing but work since I got here.” Delphia played with the hem of her dress. “We could do whatever you want to do.”
“Oh boy, Dollface, be careful what you ask for.” Micky was trying not to laugh and keep his eyes on the road, but he kept stealing glances at her. She was too innocent. He’d probably scare her.
Delphia shrugged. She didn’t know any better. She was thinking about picture shows and dance halls. He slowly came to a stop in front of her building. “You should get upstairs and try to sleep. We’ll revisit the subject when you have your head on straight.”
“Fine, I’ll think on it for now. I’ll be seeing you…you know, whenever you make it back.” She was about to get out of the car.
“Hold on there a minute,” Micky snuck an arm around her waist and pulled her close. Delphia was shocked to find herself pressed up against his side, but didn’t fight it. She turned her head and to Micky’s surprise, gave him a peck on the cheek.
“Thank you for lunch,” she said and tried to pull away, but he held firmly on to her as he dug in his pocket with his free hand. Her heart jumped up to her throat as she watched his money clip reappear. Clumsily with his arm still around her he took a few bills off. He put the clip back on the small wad and handed her the rest. She felt frozen. It was with difficulty that she forced her hand to move and take it.
“I…I can’t take this,” she said, as she tried to swallow the lump in her throat. Tears started to prickle at her eyes. She hung her head and tried to wipe away the few that escaped.
“You just did,” Micky said. He started to feel uncomfortable. He hadn’t meant to make her cry. He struggled with what to do next. He gave her a quick squeeze and kissed her on the forehead. “Now put that away before you lose it, get upstairs and lie down.”
Delphia obeyed. She slid across the seat and out of the car. She leaned on the door and thanked him again. He waved it away as if he hadn’t just given her the largest wad of cash she ever held in her life. She hurried up the stairs and inside.