It was her first night singing. The Gypsy Hand was one of the most popular clubs in Gaslight Square. She smoothed the blue dress, the prettiest thing she had ever worn. She looked in the foggy mirror, stomach fluttering. She had no idea how to she could get from this room to the stage downstairs. Yet, she knew she would.
In some of the movies that she and her friend Deborah sneaked into, there was someone to come and get the star. In the clubs down the street, there were people that came and reminded someone where they were. How much time was left. She took a deep breath, thinking. Thinking of everything that could be, would be ahead of her. She opened her eyes, looking at the papers next to her. Doc had run in her room, and dropped of the crumpled papers as he dashed away. She heard a thunderclap, and smiled.
The music swelled downstairs, filling the room she rented with piano sounds. She thought about her grandmother, and the rhyme she spoke of when she was scared in the time of bad storms. “Sugarbaby,” she would say, leaning close to her ear. “You just sing this song, just like this here:
Miss Mary Mack,
All dressed in black.
With silver buttons
All down her back.
She clapped the correct rhythm for her to follow, wrapping her hands in hers. The callouses on her hands, rubbing the smoothness on the backs of her hands. She remembered the stories her grandmother told about farming, cotton picking and being the daughter of ones not born free. “Whenever I got real good and scared at that ol’ rain and thunder,” she’d tell her. “My grandmama, yo great- great Nana, Oleander, told me this lil ole rhyme.” She had smile, opening her eyes again. The little girl gone, the woman with the new hair and borrowed dress looking back at her from the foggy mirror.
She looked down at her hands, heard the thunder again. She closed her eyes , willing her hands from their resting place on the bed. The bed was hard and too small, but it was all Levi had. The room was all he could spare, and it was a way not to be home with Aunt Linda. She began to clap, “Miss Mary Mack, All dressed in black,” She continued the rhyme, willing the tears and ache for family away.
There was a knock at the door, quick and loud. “Miss Ethylene!” It was Doc, remembering his manners of not going through her door when it was closed. “Here me!” she answered. “Miss Carolyn sent me upstairs to go and get you so you can come downstairs!” He sounded out of breath. It was time. Carolyn, whom she only met last week, with the song he just gave her, was waiting downstairs. Everything was downstairs. “Tell her,” she exhaled. “tell her here I come.”
Doc’s footsteps mimicked the thunder outside. She stood, smoothed the dress borrowed from Levi’s wife, Naomi. It was a relic of her former life in New Orleans as a debutant. At least, that’s what she told her when she dropped the gorgeous gown off the day before. She turned in the mirror, examining the lines and the babydoll pumps next to her moisturized feet. They were unwilling to go into those hard shoes, or she was unwilling to give away that last bastion of self—the little girl who ran bare foot in delta clay and dust.
She reached down, picking up the shoes, icy blue like the dress. She grinned, remembering Ms. Naomi had said she had those ordered through the Sears clasping the doorknob which looked like a big diamond, she bit her bottom lip. She looked over her shoulder, her red hair shimmering in the dim light. “Okay, Ruby. Getcha ass downstairs.”
[The Gypsy Hand is a fictional bar set in St. Louis, Missouri during the heyday of The Gaslight District. The Gypsy Hand is also to a pivotal setting in my novel, RUBY. The Gypsy Hand will be a prequel to this novel. It will be released March 2019. If you want to know more about Ethylene and The Gypsy Hand, get a copy of RUBY by clicking here.]