Dig it, Diana said. Marines. She and I sat at our usual end of the bar.
And indeed, five young beauties in uniform with ridiculously short hair had sauntered into our Village saloon, as saucy as geese. I shrugged and lit a cigarette, watching them through puffs of smoke. I had my eye on the blond one. He could have been a cracker from Oklahoma or a rich boy from Connecticut. Who could tell in that spiffy little soldier suit?
“How much you want to bet that The Dragon Lady hits on them?” Diana said.
At the other end of the bar, old Kitty Polanski sat in her green dress with the low neckline and sure enough, was on those boys in a New York second. Diana sighed and signaled to the bartender by circling a dainty forefinger over our glasses to give us another round.
We called Kitty Dragon Lady because her breath was dank if you got close enough to talk to her. It was a cruel nickname, but apt. She had big spaces between her front teeth giving her an impoverished look in a face that was worn and ruddy from too much booze and too little skin care. We guessed—we the young and the fortunate—that she was about forty, her body bellicose with wide hips and sagging breasts. And she often wore a shiny green dress. Each night as it got later, she got louder and cruder. But it was early yet, and she was making nice with the new blood.
By closing time, two of the boys who were buying our drinks had already set up a private party. They knew somebody on Jane Street with a pad.
Ever wonder why they call you jarheads? Diana teased, dimpling and tossing her long dark hair.
You will come with me, won’t you? her Marine, Cal, said earnestly. He was a southerner with a drawl and Diana said of course she knew a gentleman when she saw one. He had said they were twenty years old. They looked younger to me.
My blond was named Henry and turned out to be from Indiana. He loved jazz and so did I, and we swayed by the jukebox and danced-in-place a little as he fed quarters into the slot and pushed B5 over and over again for Ella’s “The Nearness of You.”
After last call, the four of us pushed out into the snowy morning followed by two of the other Marines and the Dragon Lady. Diana was a little drunk, and her eyes shone up at Cal. Henry and I linked arms and stuck our tongues out to catch snowflakes. Diana and I exchanged smiles. It was wonderful to be eighteen, to be free, with beautiful men on our arms. The flakes of the wet snow caught on Henry’s lashes, and no night had ever felt so light, so right.
The pad was a low ceilinged one-bedroom in a walkup. The refrigerator was stocked with beer. Diana sniffed. We don’t drink beer, she said. Cal disappeared into the bedroom and emerged with a bottle of vodka. Never fear, Cal is here, he said. There was a buzz of current in the place. We were nervous. Our hands were cold. Henry turned on the stereo and turned off the overhead. The one lamp in the room cast a yellow pallor on our faces.
The other two Marines came out of the kitchen with beers, and led the Dragon Lady into the bedroom. They didn’t close the door. When I glanced up, I could see her on the bed, her white thigh exposed under the wrinkled, green clutch of her dress. My stomach lurched and I turned to Diana. We could hear quick breathing and groans and then she screamed out “fuck me, you bastards, fuck me.”
The living room seemed to freeze for a moment, the four of us fossilized in amber light. And then the spell broke in slivers of sound and action, and I could hear my heart thudding. Diana reached for her coat in a ballet of slow motion.. Cal’s stricken face was suddenly old and Mel Torme skatted inanely on the stereo. Green, I said. That hideous green.
Don’t cry, Henry said, Oh, please don’t cry.