Crimson Red. That was the name of the hot new lipstick and Dot loved how it looked. It emphasized her emerald eyes causing them to sparkle and glow. Night cat eyes, she’d been told. She blotted the lips on tissue paper just like Redbook had said, and patted the rouge as well. Her jet black hair was curled in the stylish Victory Roll. She smoothed the skirt on the belted cotton sun dress and twirled around so the fullness ballooned out, showing her silk covered legs. A last glance in back to check the seams and a pinch on the cheeks to enhance the rouge and she felt like any of those models in Vogue. It all was a wise purchase with her weeks tips from the diner.
“What are you doing in there Dottie? Don’t think you’re going out again. Your grandma needs tending to.”
Her father’s rough voice set her teeth on edge. He could yell all he wanted while he was playing with his train city in the basement but he never did the tending. He came home black from the coal of steam engines and expected his bath waiting and his dinner after. Then he’d disappear for the rest of the night playing with more trains. Ever since her mother had died, Dottie became the woman of the house without any of the womanly pleasures.
“Granny’s done and in bed, father. Yes, I am going out again. I’ve worked all week too you know.”
She knew when she said it there was going to be a fight. William Stroebe didn’t take kindly to being talked back to by anyone in his house. Her only recourse was to get Granny involved. She slipped into Granny’s bedroom with the purple iris wallpaper-covered walls and soft candle glow. Her half frame was tucked into the white eyelet bedspread that she’d made for her dowry when she was a teenager in Germany. Dottie loved the softness of the bedspread, the tenderness of Granny’s voice and the exciting stories she told about escaping Germany for the gold paved streets of America. Granny knew adventure and she knew desire. She also knew heartache from the death of a husband and a daughter, and the pain of losing both legs to gangrene. Her body was crippled but her heard and mind weren’t and she was Dottie’s champion. Her splotched translucent hand patted Dottie’s when she sat on the side of her bed.
“Don’t you worry honey, he just wants you to be safe. He doesn’t understand a girl needs to dance, to sing and laugh. He’s forgotten.”
“Now Louise Klaussen, don’t you stand between me and that girl. She can’t be running around all hours of the night. She’s just eighteen. She’s down at the hall with all those soldiers and that will only be trouble. Dottie, go wash that stuff off your face and take off those trashy clothes. You’re not going down there.”
“Bill,” whispered Louise, “she needs it. Try to remember what it was like to laugh. Remember when you and Christine used to go to the same kind of halls and dance all night? Dottie’s not an old woman. She’s got energy to burn and a love to find.”
“Don’t talk all that stuff to me Louise. Christine and me were married when we danced all night. No one is going to want to marry Dottie if she’s out all night dancing and God knows what else.”
Here it was. Dot had heard it over and over. Her father had made her go to church every Sunday since her mother passed and she’d heard it there as well. The sin of women and men. The sin of the flesh. The fallen woman and how she brings shame to herself and the family and ruins life for everyone. There was never anything said about trust. Never anything said about love unless it was the love of God. God’s love was doing nothing for her but she hadn’t done anything about it. She was what her father called a “good girl,” but there was no telling him that, so she remained silent and let her Granny tell him the way it was.
“You shouldn’t talk about your daughter like that Bill. Christine would be ashamed of you. Dottie knows right from wrong but keeping her locked up is only going to make her rush into things and that’s when the wrong happens. She’s got me all washed up, dressed and settled in bed for the night, so you just let her go have some fun now and quit your complaining. Go on now, go back to your trains and let me get some sleep.”
Granny nestled deeper into the eyelet bedspread. Dottie knew she wasn’t going to sleep. She’d be up for hours reading Emily Dickinson or Jane Austin or some other woman writer of love and angst. Sometimes, Granny was still awake when Dottie came in and they’d eat cold leftover potato pancakes with applesauce while Dottie told her all about the soldiers and the new dances, like the jitterbug. Then Granny would have Dottie show her the dance moves. Dottie would whistle and hum the current hits like “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” and she’d swing herself around the room in the candle smoke. Granny knew Dot needed a mother and she tried the best she could without legs.
Her father grumbled something about a time and left the room. They listened to his hard steps thumping down the basement stairs then they both giggled and hugged each other like teenage girls.
“I love you Granny.”
“I love you too little girl. Now go have fun and don’t make me a liar.”
She smiled and picked up her book off the nightstand. “The Pride and the Prejudice.” Dottie was right but she didn’t say anything. She jumped and skipped out of the bedroom, out of that house and down the marigold lined walk that shimmered in the porch light, and danced right out the white wooden gate, leaving it standing open in her excitement.
Mary was waiting for her on the corner under the streetlamp. Mary was a long legged, stocky girl with bouncing blonde curls. They went to high school together, the same church and they worked together at the same diner—breakfast and lunch shift. Mary’s father, Hans, worked at the train yards with Dottie’s father and she went through the same trouble at home. Mary’s mother had died last year in childbirth and she took car of the newborn and running the house just like Dottie, but she didn’t have a grandma with no legs to take care of. She didn’t have a grandma to stick up for her either. Mary put her makeup on at the dance hall because if she didn’t it would be all smeared from the tears of fighting with her father.
“I almost didn’t make it this time. I had to run out of the house. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I go home. I might not have a home,” Mary said when she hugged Dottie hello.
“Don’t be silly. They can’t do without us. Who would cook and clean and wash their clothes for them? Come on, let’s forget about them and go dancing.”
That was the night Dottie met Second Lieutenant Boyd Crane, a fighter pilot in the US Air Force. What a dream!