“It’s like a peach, you see," she said. "That’s the privilege of the wicked: I take one bite and get to eat it all.”
Her face was like toast and she swung her burnt legs from the tree, saucily looking at the girl below in the yellow dress. She pelted her wet core down on her head like a magpie. “That’s what a pit looks like.”
“Come on down,” said the blonde, fanning herself, slightly plump. “I’m melting like a chocolate icecream.”
The friends splashed through a cold, shallow river. The brown rocks sparkled and the pebbles massaged their feet. Their peeled-off pantyhose rested like limp snakes on the bank, and they lay in the grass sunning themselves.
“I just feel so alive right now,” breathed Jane.
“Mm, so do I,” said Sally, stretching out and curling her toes. “It’s yummy, isn’t it?”
Then they grabbed their shoes and ran through the meadow, to a broken down-looking farmhouse.
“Golly, it’s half-past four!” yelped Sally when she got in. She pounded up the narrow staircase. “Where the devil is my ball gown, Jane?”
“The blue one was taken in this morning. The green one’s still hanging.”
She slithered into her silk. “You can wear my green one,” said Sally.
“It’s not dry,” said Jane.
Jane took out her red polka-dot frock.
“Let me bob it,” Sally begged.
“You asked me that yesterday.”
“Today isn’t yesterday.”
“I still like it long.”
“Sure, but it looks like our mothers’ generation.”
“I think I’ll wear it down tonight.” Jane carefully turned her back as she wiggled into her sedate outfit.
“Alright, sugar, don’t get your tongue in a knot. We don’t want sour pickles for the boys.” Sally went to her and quickly zipped up her back and luxuriously let down her bunch of golden hair. “Oh, gorry, one of these nights, Jane -” stringing her hands through it.
“One of these nights - what?” asked Jane.
“- I really am going to take a pair of shears to it,” said Sally.
“You’d better not. - I want a chicken and a ham right now.”
“Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no! You sound like Scarlett’s mammy. Whoever else heard of eating before a dinner party?” Sally shoved her feet into small black heels. “Save room for it - they'll be having champagne and oysters.” She swung a long strand of fake pearls over her head and misted her bare arms with Arpège. “How am I?”
“A siren, as always. The men tonight will be lured to their watery graves. And I?” She twirled.
“Like the pretty farm girl you are, ready to bake a pie for your man come in from haying.”
“Oh, gosh, Sal. That’s the farthest thing from alluring you could say.”
“Well, that’s what you are, my sweet,” she chummily put her arm around her friend’s shoulder, "and you have to accept it." They heard a honk outside.
“Whoops, there’s the boys!”
“I’m worried, Sal!”
“No, you’ll be a smashing success.”
“But what if I say the wrong thing or drop my fork? What if I can’t stomach the champagne or talk about the dry spell of weather? I never would have met the Reds if it weren’t for you - they don’t go around with people like me.”
“No, you’ve got the wrong idea: these kind of men like college girls. Just quote them John Locke or John Donne.”
“But I don’t know what half those men mean.”
“Neither do they! Come on, we’re wasting their gas.”
“No, no, wait - I need -” Jane cut a hefty piece of cake from under the glass in the kitchen, inhaling it in two bites.
In the evening air, Sally swiveled up to the car, and Jane hurried behind.
“Hello, precious,” hooted the gentleman in the front seat. “We weren’t going to wait all night. But I knew you’d make it worth our while. Look at you -”
“Careful what you say, Dick,” interrupted Sally. “My friend’s ears are uninitiated. Gang, this is Jane Preston.”
“Hello, boys,” said Jane shyly, in the midst of greetings. In an undertone she said to Sally, as they climbed over the side, “Is this where I'm supposed to talk about the tabula rasa?”
“Not yet, don’t worry. These types have to get drunk before they want to get intellectual.”
“- I feel comforted.”
“Scoot,” said Sally, to a pudgy boy in the back seat.
“- Too tired.”
“Fine, then, you have a passenger,” said Sally, parking herself right down on his knee, to the guffaws of all the men. Jane flattened out her skirt with her hands.
“Where should I -?”
“Here,” said a young man, getting up. He climbed over and stood on the running board.
“Thank you,” she said, and moved to his seat.
“I like it here anyway,” he shrugged.
“Of course that’s where Jane should sit,” said Sally. “No knee for her. She's Jane Preston!”
Jane smiled at her, and Sally smiled back.
As they whizzed down a long poplar road, the appearance of the Red’s grand mansion, Georgian-style, made quite a spectacle against the dark blue sky: lit up from the inside, with the southern fields spread in their glory around it.
Sally stood and whistled. “Here we go, boys! - Bet I get fractured before you do,” and jumped down onto the gravel. (“- You’re on, Sally Mae!”) Jane got out behind her.
When the girls walked in through the wide, white front doors, the brassy sounds of live jazz fell like a shatter of sparkles around their ears, and the place was a-buzzing with young people curling and alive. Sally slid in as smooth as vanilla-cream among them and disappeared into the shimmers, but Jane looked bewildered and lost, standing in her bright red polka-dots. She then saw the running board man hovering by the chocolate strawberries, and she moved to him through the crowd, as if she were swimming towards a buoy.
An hour later, Sally bobbled over to her, as Jane sat on a sofa in the corner with the man, both of them listening to a crooner with feathers in her hair.
“Men are beasts,” she said, grabbing Jane’s hand. “All of them. - Oh, but not you, George. Can I borrow her? Come and sit with me outside, Jane. I need a smoke.”
They sat down on the cold granite steps and watched the water fountain hissing into the blue of the pool.
“What dirty richness this all is,” said Sally. “I want to swim in wealth, Jane…I want to bathe in it…and I think that Dick Red fancies me. Of course, he was the beast to whom I was referring, but all men with wealth are insufferable.” She reached up and idly played with Jane’s hair. “Let me bob it -”
“Aw, Sally,” said Jane. “You don’t think that way. You know you don’t.”
“And what if I do? You’re so idealistic, you don’t believe people could be as greedy and ambitious as I am.”
“You’re talking nonsense. You’re not in your head right now.”
“I’m also slightly tipsy.”
“I won’t squabble with you, then.”
“I wish you would! Maybe show a flash of protest once in a while. Maybe bat my hand away and stand up for the fact that you love your hair and don’t give a d--n what the style is. Maybe then you’d prove you have a spark of life in you.”
“Well, that’s insulting, Sally.” Jane stood up and walked back inside. “And I do love my hair.”
She went in.
“Are you alright?” asked George. “I - I didn’t distress you by talking about black rights, did I? I know it’s touchy for some people. But see, on my farm -”
“I think I’d like a drink,” said Jane.
“Oh. Oh, alright.” George moved away and brought back to her a clear bubbly glass of something sweet which she drained quickly, and another. At that moment, Sally sailed past her, and Jane watched her attach herself to Dick, as the feather-girl started singing something sultry in the current blues style.
She swung around to Jane.
“Like a peach, remember? I get to eat it all,” and she laughed. At that, Jane turned and went out into the hall, where it was empty of people, but Sally followed her out.
“When are you going to break loose?”
“I’m loose enough,” cried Jane. “I swear, I’m sick to death of your pecking at me. You have ever since you came. You’re always tearing me down and making me feel like a twelve-year old girl!”
“Here we go!” Sally grinned wide. “Now this is what I like -”
“No,” shrieked Jane, surprised at her own voice. “No, don’t even say that. It’s not your right to like or dislike anything I do or say: I don’t need your approval, or disapproval. I won’t be pegged; I won’t be labeled. Leave me alone.”
Sally unexpectedly grabbed her hand. “I can’t leave you alone,” she said. "I don’t want to be alone.”
“Well, neither do I.” Jane walked out, and then came back in.
“Do it.” She handed Sally shears that she had taken from the kitchen.
“You have to be joshing.”
“Bob my hair.”
“Those must’ve cut fish or something!”
“I don’t care! - do it.”
Sally hesitated, and then lopped off Jane’s hair - doing quite a neat job of it, too.
Soon Jane’s canopy was sleek against her head. The fluff lay on the floor: an acreage of gold.
Sally looked down at it stupidly. “We have to get rid of it somehow.”
“You can - I can’t,” and Jane ran out.
A half an hour later, Sally found her in the crowd and whispered, “I felt like a murderer. And cleaning it up was like - taking away the blood and gore from a crime scene.” Her laughter was short-lived. “I’m sorry, doll.”
“I asked you to,” said Jane.
“Do you want to go back outside now?”
It was so quiet. The fountain was still falling in a cool spray, shattering the light on the water. Jane did not know whether it was the glasses of champagne or the extra weight of hair that was gone, but her head felt so light: she was sailing up in the misty clouds and the moon was bobbing like a boat on the sea.
“I think we're more the same then we think,” said Sally.
“I’m not - what would you say?” said Jane suddenly, " - vestal."
“No… you see, my uncle -”
Then there was a pause, a white moment, where no more could be said. Sally looked at her. “Yeah. My brothers, too. I kind of guessed it, seeing you. I wonder if we’re having different reactions to the same thing? - What a brilliant insight on my part, for being smashed.”
“I’ve always wanted to dance like that,” said Jane fervidly. “I’ve want nothing more. If only men saw me as passionately as they see you!”
“I'd give that up in a snap,” said Sally, “if a man would offer me his seat, and treat me like a lady - like in the olden days, like they treat you - just even once.”
“And I would give up a hundred of those times, just to feel as attractive and powerful as you must!”
Sally grasped her hand with ferocity. "You're beautiful. You must know that. Can I tell you that? You are beautiful. Does it frighten you I've said that?"
“No. We're just women. Oh, Sally, I love you so much! - with your wildness and your silk dresses and your dancing -”
“And I love you, with your wholesomeness and your farm clothes and - no, no, I just love you. As you are." She took Jane's other hand as they were now facing each other, vitally clasped. "I’ve been jealous - I’ve wished I was you.”
“I felt the same. I’ve longed to be you.”
“I don’t think I could ever love someone so much,” said Sally, “or be loved again this much, as I feel in this moment, right now.”
And the moon came to rest in the harbor of a poplar tree.
“What a blistering headache,” said Sally, the next morning. “Never do anything at night you wouldn’t do in broad daylight. The sun reproaches you for it the next day.” She stopped and stared. “Your hair!”
"Succumbed at last. Wasn't it funny when you... wait. You don't - I mean, you don't remember?"
“Not at all!” laughed Sally. “I drank so much I don’t remember anything. What - did I say something horrid to Mrs. Red or smash a chandelier or something?”
“No,” said Jane. “You did nothing wrong.”
“Oh, good,” said Sally. She walked into the kitchen. “Oh, by the way,” she turned. “That George fellow came by here this morning. Left you that bouquet over there.” She waved her cigarette towards a yellow blur of color on the kitchen table. “We’re both going to have the lives we want. You with your farmer. Me, my gold.”
Jane wanted to go to her and put her hands hard on her shoulders and look at Sally as squarely and deeply as they did in the moonlight and say, “I know you remember last night. Is this what we really want? Is it, Sal? The world is ours. Remember how you felt yesterday! - just yesterday - splashing in the river in the sun - and sprawling on the granite steps -”
But she said,