(Dodging Shells gave you Tommy’s letters to his sister, from the front. Kathy’s letters in response tell of life in wartime Toronto.)
…..I barely had a chance to take it home and hang it up when who should gallop up but Prince Charming! Okay, it was actually Larry, the Accounting Manager, and he just kind of strolled into the personnel office…but rumour has it he’s rich, and he certainly is easy on the eyes. And he asked me out for dinner, and dancing at the Palais Royale. (I’m sure you see the connection now.) Well, why not? After all, I already had an elegant evening wrap, didn’t I?
…..I knew better than to wait for a fairy godmother to wander by and spruce up my wardrobe for the occasion. I transformed that silk altar cloth you sent me into an elegant evening blouse, and whipped up a long black velvet skirt to wear with it. I figure if you make the stuff yourself, you can be pretty sure it’s not all going to disappear at midnight. I mean, I don’t mind walking home barefoot if my shoes disappear, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to take the risk of running around Toronto at night in my underwear.
…..Larry entertained me over dinner with a gripping account of his college exploits and a long list of the many places he had visited with his family. (I wasn’t tempted to trade vacation anecdotes with him, even if I’d been able to get a word in, edgewise.) And as we drove down to the lake shore, he mentioned that we’d be meeting a few of his friends. Oh, I thought, okay…I guess. I was just glad he wasn’t driving a pumpkin.
…..When you name a ballroom the Palais Royale, you create certain expectations. But I’m not too hard to please. It was lovely, with panelled walls, vaulted ceiling, and an immense stone fireplace, and the hardwood dance floor was polished like glass. (So much more sensible than wearing glass slippers, don’t you think?) I would have liked to spend some time enjoying the view on the lake, but we were immediately submerged in a tidal wave of Larry’s very best friends.
…..You know, each one of them might have been full of fun, separately, but there were so many of them, and they were trying so damned hard to be smooth and sophisticated. And Larry was trying hardest of all. He complained constantly: the band (which was good) was not quite Benny Goodman, the oysters were distinctly inferior to the ones you could eat on the east coast, etc., etc. (Yes, I snacked on oysters…they’re tasty, but not worth the texture.) The booze they’d brought was passed around more or less discreetly, and everyone was determined to sparkle. Oh, I held my own end up, matching name dropping with witty repartee, but after a while, my smile started to feel so brittle I was afraid my face might shatter and fall off, piece by piece, right there in front of everybody. I thought, fun shouldn’t be so damned exhausting!
…..When I was refreshing my makeup in the powder room, one of the girls in our ‘party’, Clarissa, sidled up to me. She was smiling all over her sharp little face, but I sensed that she didn’t like me. Now, it usually takes people a little time to dislike me, so I had to assume that she was one of Larry’s old flames. Or perhaps she aspired to be a new one.
…..She took my hand in the chummiest way. I hate it when strangers do that. “I noticed when you came in,” she said, “what a clever outfit you’re wearing. Matching the skirt to the coat…how darling!”
…..“Thanks.” I waited for the punch line.
…..“And the blouse…it’s quite unique. You must tell me where you found it.”
…..“Actually, my brother picked it up for me. In Italy.”
…..“In Italy,” she cooed. “Really! Well, who knows…when this nasty war is over, maybe Italy will become a fashion centre.” And she laughed, sarcastically.
…..I hate her, I decided. I wish her harm. Something painful would be good.
…..It was a night of magic.
…..We had barely returned to the group when Clarissa, gliding around the dance floor on the arm of her date while keeping a sharp eye out to make sure everyone was watching her flawless technique, missed her footing on the slick hardwood and fell flat on her ass. She bounced back onto her feet in an instant – it was actually quite impressive – wearing a tight little smile and pretending it had never happened. Her partner’s grin became a wince when her perfectly polished nails dug into his wrist. As we danced by I heard her snarl at him, “Don’t you dare say a word!”
…..And I knew that my fairy godmother was there after all.
…..A few minutes later, Clarissa developed a migraine and insisted that her disappointed date take her home immediately. Before they left, I followed her to the cloakroom where I was able to whisper a few words of sympathy:
…..“I’m so sorry. I saw what happened…we all did. You must be so humiliated….” I could tell from the look on her face that she didn’t welcome my concern, so I left her to her misery.
…..I’d always wanted to dance at the Palais Royale, but I guess I thought it would be a bit more romantic. By the end of the evening, we hadn’t had a moment’s sincere conversation. I still didn’t have any idea who Larry really was under all that gloss, and I wasn’t sure I cared to find out. In any case, I don’t have another evening wrap, and I’m sure it would be quite unacceptable to wear the same one twice. So I don’t think I’ll be seeing him again.
…..Oh, and thanks again for the altar cloth! It was a huge success. Of course, if that bunch had even suspected….
…..Tommy, I detect a culinary theme running through your letters. Now, I don’t want you to be worrying about us at home, as you struggle to eat your scanty and indigestible meals and listen to your stomach growl. We’re still not suffering from rationing. Not at all. In fact, if we don’t buy the amount of meat we’re allowed, they even give us tokens to use later when we’re feeling piggish. They’re like small, blue coins with holes in the centre. I think they’d make excellent poker chips, and we have plenty, so I’m threading them on a long string to save for you.
…..Have I told you how proud we all are of what you fellows have accomplished over there? Well, if I don’t mention it often, it’s just because you were all quite vain enough before you left, and I’m afraid you’ll be perfectly insufferable by the time you get back home.
…..Back among the cinders, but appreciating it more now,