Happy weekend! My prompts this week were:
A coat-check girl, gets jilted at the altar, and a novelty alarm clock. So here we go:
Fact Check Girl
Clara’s alarm clock had the most annoying bell she had ever heard. She may have noticed it before this morning, but today it was more obnoxious than usual. She turned to hit it off, but instead the clock captured her attention. It was one of those novelty clocks, one her father had gotten for her when he was in Germany, helping with the reconstruction after the war. It was one of the first clocks made, he said. It had a bear, tethered to an organ grinder and as the bell rung, the bear jumped up and down, and the organ grinder’s arm rotated as if he was the one creating the god-awful sound and not the little bells inside the clock. German engineering, her father said, was going to go back to making things that serve society, not destroy it. But that was a different war and a different reconstruction. She wondered now if Germany would rebuild again.
Clara got up and got ready for work. The sun was starting to dip down below the skyline and she could hear her roommates moving around the kitchen. They were just getting home from their jobs, as they were career girls, as Erick would say. Stenographers and secretaries. Erick didn’t like career girls, he reminded Clara every time he picked her up for a date. They put their careers ahead of the important things, he said, like husbands and families. Sure, he said, it was important that girls helped in the factories during the war, to help since all the men were gone fighting. But the men were back, Erick said, and now it was time for girls to remember their place.
Clara liked her job. It was fun, meeting new people and making sure their coats and hats were safe while they ate at the restaurant. She was genuinely afraid she would not be able to go back to work. Erick said he would make sure of that.
One of her roommates, poked her head in the bathroom door, where Clara was putting on her makeup. “We made some meatloaf, if you want some before you go to the restaurant.”
Clara put down the mascara and stared into her own eyes. “No thanks, I will get something from Chef later tonight. He gets his feelings hurt if I don’t say yes to his food.” Could Margo tell she was lying? Clara wondered. Could Clara herself even tell if she was lying, did her eyes give her away? She adjusted her skirt. It was getting a bit loose, but she could alter it during the week. Erick had made a comment that their engagement was not an excuse to let herself go. She put on her bright red lipstick and tucked the tube into her pocket for touch ups later. She was not going to be the kind of girl who let herself go. Not engagement, not marriage, nothing would allow her to become one of those women, frumpy, shabby and pushing a hoard of babies in a carriage. She promised herself that much. Clara pulled up her skirt one more time. She would definitely need to take in the waist this week.
She looked at her left hand. Erick promised that he would put a wedding ring there to go with the engagement ring. A beautiful diamond for my beautiful bride, that is what he said. There was a knock on the bathroom door. Maybe that is what she had looked forward to the most, not a ring, but to have the bathroom as long as she wanted, not having to share such a small apartment with four roommates. Just her and Erick and a place to themselves. It didn’t have to be big, just big enough.
“I can’t believe you didn’t show up for two days and didn’t get fired,” Lana said. She was leaning on the wall next to the restaurant’s back door. She took a deep drag on her cigarette, “If it was me, I would be out on my ass.”
“I can’t believe it either, really.” Clara watched the red glow of the cigarette, wondering what it was like. She never smoked in her life. Erick told her it was a disgusting habit for women, as he lit up his own Camel. She sighed and opened the back door. “But I am back and I am sorry I left you alone.”
Lana followed her in. “Yanno, I have half a mind to not show up next weekend, and let you see what it was like. Just because it’s not winter doesn’t mean we aren’t busy. The joint is packed every night now. So many hats.”
Clara just nodded. She got to the counter and opened the half door, exposing the hat check room to the foyer. There were already a few people milling around waiting for their early reservation. Lana handed her an apron with the restaurant name embroidered on the bib, to make sure customers knew they worked there and were not just there to steal hats, Lana always joked.
No one would steal a hat, Clara thought, but the stoles. The cool autumn weather meant women brought out their beautiful fur stoles. There was sable, mink and fox. Clara love the stoles more than any other part of the job. When there were slow times, she would find her self standing at the rack, petting stoles as if they were cats. She wondered how it would feel to be a woman with a stole. A woman with a husband who would give a stole as a gift, like a warm hug that she could enjoy when her husband was away. She loved the feel of the fur as her hands burrowed into it. But she would never try one on. That was against the rules. And from what Clara could tell, the be-stoled women always followed the rules.
Once the rush of the first seating subsided, Clara and Lana started to tidy up the room a bit. Sweeping the dust and shed fur that came as part of the coat room was not a hard thing, and Clara didn’t mind it. Lana thought it was beneath them, and usually tried to bribe an idle busboy into it.
“So, where were you really?” Lana asked. “Did Erick take you on some romantic getaway? I know that newlyweds do that, yanno.”
“Um, no. I went to the wedding of a friend,” Clara finally said. “I’m not used to having champagne, so it went right to my head.” The truth, something that she didn’t tell Lana very much. She rubbed her left finger, where she used to wear her engagement ring. She never wore it to work anyway, tips were better if the customers thought she was single. Clara figured if she never wore an engagement ring to get better tips, no one would question not wearing a wedding ring.
The maitre’d poked his head over the counter, inspecting the floor of the coat room. He winked. “Glad you’re back, Clara.” He turned to Lana, and shook his head. “Chef wants to know if you girls want dinner?”
“No thanks,” Lana said.
“I’m set, “ Clara said, “We had meatloaf tonight.”
“That’s right, you’re a homemaker now,” the maitre’d said. “The first seating will be over in a bit, and the second is already starting to make their way in, so this is your only chance. The salmon is really good tonight.”
Both girls shook their heads, and he left. “I don’t know why they are always pushing food on us, then they complain when our skirts are tight,” Lana said. “Although you have Erick, so you can relax a bit.”
“Oh, no, not at all. Erick hates when women let themselves go. I’ve promised that wouldn’t happen.” Clara took a deep breath. Those were two truths. It was context that was the lie. She was trying to not lie so much, but it was the only way to function. Little white lies, so no one gets hurt, those were allowed.
There was a flurry of activity as Lana and Clara returned the hats and outerwear of the customers leaving and then they started taking in that of the new customers.
Lana whistled, “Would you look at that? That looks like the one in the window of Bergdorf Goodman!”
Clara looked, and the blonde woman was hugged by a rich brown fur stole. She and Lana had seen it in the window a few weeks ago while walking during a rare break. They joked about going in and trying it on, knowing that the sales clerk could see they could never afford it and not even allow them to touch it. The woman was walked toward the coat check room. Clara would not miss the chance to touch it now.
Lana held the check card out to the woman and a man appeared from behind her and took the card. “I’ll take that.” He doffed his felt fedora and handed that over. “It will be with this.”
Clara tried to hide in the rack of coats and stoles, but there were not enough yet.
“Clara! Good to see you! Didn’t get a chance to chat at the wedding,” the man said. “You remember meeting my bride, Constance?”
Clara walked over to the counter, trying to avoid looking at Lana. “Hello Mr. Ryder, how are you this evening.”
Constance tossed back her hair and laughed, “My husband, so kind he invites the hat check girls to our wedding.”
Clara nodded. Once she was not wearing the stole, the woman seemed ordinary. Not ugly, but not a beauty deserving of this fur.
“Well when you are here as often as I am, they become like family,” Mr. Ryder said. He winked at Clara, then put a hand on Constance’s back to guide her to the dining room.
Lana was holding the stole. “Wow, it is just as soft as it looked in the window.” She held it out to Clara. “Here, feel it.”
“No.” Clara said. She couldn’t even bear to look at it. How could he? He knew she worked here, how could he come and just flaunt Constance Kursten, heir to the Kursten Diamond Company, in front of her coworkers? She looked at Lana. Maybe, just maybe, she didn’t recognize him.
Once the second seating was being served their salads, Lana said she was going out for a smoke break. Clara went over to the brown sable. She reached out, but couldn’t bring herself to touch it. As she tried again, she was interrupted.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Mr. Ryder was at the counter again. “I knew you always loved it in the window at Bergie’s. So I insisted that Connie wear it here, so you can see it. Try it on!”
“I can’t do that,” Clara hissed. “It’s against the rules. I could get fired.”
“You didn’t get fired for missing two days after my wedding.” He studied his nails. They looked professionally manicured now, not bitten as they were when Erick and Clara dated. “I made sure of that.”
Clara wasn’t sure what to say. She turned and picked up a hat brush and started brushing the first hat she could reach.
“Look, babe, I know we should have talked. But this chance came, the chance to marry Connie and be rich. I never had money like this, and I never would without her. I had to do this.”
Clara nodded. Her eyes burned with tears, but she kept her head bent down so he wouldn’t see.
“Babe, it could be the best of all worlds here. You don’t belong living with those career girls, they’re just going to end up old maids. And your friend here, well, she isn’t like you either. You don’t belong here, you’re not a working girl.”
“And what do you suppose I do?” Clara finally found her voice. “I was supposed to be your wife! I was supposed to be living with you, making you dinner, ironing your shirts! You didn’t even tell me, you just didn’t show up at our wedding!”
“Babe, babe, I had to do this, for us.” He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and handed it to her. “I have a plan. I can fix you up with your own place. Just you, and then I can come see you and it will be just like it was before. You and me.”
Clara stared at the handkerchief. It had a monogram, ERK. He had never had monogrammed handkerchieves before. “But your wife, you’re married now. It can never be like it was before.”
“It’ll be better, because you won’t be tired from working all the time, and I can see you whenever I want.” Erick smiled. He looked over his shoulder. “Look, I need to get back to the table. But I have money now. I can take care of you. I promise.” He turned and headed back to the dining room.
Clara held out the handkerchief to him but it was too late.
“So, that was Erick? Not the husband after all?” Lana was standing behind her.
Clara took a deep breath. “He, uh, he…”
“He stood you up at the altar, I heard everything,” Lana said.
“Yes.” Clara said.
“What didn’t you tell me?” Lana said. “Why did you lie to all of us here about being married?”
“I, I didn’t want you all to feel sorry for me.”
“But, this is a restaurant. We are family here. We would’ve taken care of you. We have thought you were married for six months now!” Lana was getting louder and Clara was afraid maitre’d would come over.
“Shh,” Clara took a step over toward Lana, hoping she would speak more softly. “Look, he stood me up at the altar, then he had the nerve to invite me to his wedding last week. That’s why I missed work. I was so upset and there was so much champagne…”
Lana hugged her. Clara wasn’t sure what to do with that, she and Lana were not hugging friends. She pulled away. “He wants me to quit here, and pay for a place for me.”
“I heard everything. He wants you to be his mistress. He wants to use her money and your body.”
“That’s crass, Lana, he just feels bad about leaving me and wants to take care of me until I find someone else.” Clara paused, if what Lana said was true, there was no way she could agree.
“Still,” Lana said, “He’d probably get you a nice place. I would say yes in a heart beat. I would love to move out of my mom’s apartment.”
Clara nodded. It would be nice, having a place to herself. No roommates telling her to hurry in the bathroom or leaving their crusty dishes in the sink for three days. No one offering her food all the time. But what would her family say?
A man came up with his claim ticket, and Clara quickly returned his hat for him. As she put the ticket away, Lana leaned on the counter and tapped her fingers. “You should talk to him about it, at least find out what kind of place he has in mind.”
“Lana, what would my family say? They know I could never afford to live alone, much less quit this job.”
“Tell them you are in business school, and that, um that the Kursten Diamond Company is going to hire you as a secretary and you have to be trained first. A special assistant to Mr. Ryder, the president’s son in law.” Lana smiled, her eyes glowing as she plotted. “That’s exactly what it is, and you wouldn’t be lying. You just don’t mention what you are assisting him with.”
Clara considered it.
Clara poured coffee as her mother walked over to the window.
“The view is spectacular,” the older woman said softly through her breath. “I can’t believe they would put a trainee in such a lovely apartment, and without other trainees.”
Clara carried the tray with the coffee, sugar and creamer to the low table in front of her brand new sofa. “My job is special, and I get to keep this place for my job. I will need to entertain as part of my duties.” Not a lie, she reminded herself. Erick said he was awfully entertained when he was here last night.
“So, what, the wives of visiting businessmen?” Clara’s mother picked up the china cup and inspected it. “They’ve given you a wonderful set of china. It looks just like the one you had picked for your wedding.” She looked around, “In fact, the towels in the bathroom and some of these picture frames look like the wedding gifts you returned.”
“Um, they let me pick the furnishings out, so why wait for a husband, when I can have everything I want now?”
That was how Clara justified it all to herself as well. Why wait when she could have it all now?