Throughout the month of February, WNYC held a historical fiction challenge, with a deadline of March 13th. Given our current toddler-in-chief’s tendencies towards… well, lying every chance he gets… they thought it’d be a good idea to attempt some good ol’ (relatively) historically accurate fiction, if only to create some contrast.
To that end, they provided three audio-prompts, taken from their own historical archives, as a basis and starting point for would-be story-tellers.
I decided to throw my hat into the ring on this, in spite of there being no cash prize (get on that, NPR!), and proved my devotion to deadlines and dedication to unprofitable things, by writing three stories (of dubious historical accuracy, I must admit).
Here is the link to the contest, with its accompanying historical prompts, lest you find yourself curious:
It’s pretty interesting to listen to regardless of the contest – it’s strange to hear genuine voices so far in the past – a lady on the radio discussing what groceries are available (during rationing) in the early 1940s, a politian discussing the seamy and immoral nature of the then-red light district in the 1960s, and more.
And here is one of the stories:
“When the only sound in the empty street,
Is the heavy tread of the heavy feet
That belong to a lonesome cop
I open shop.”
She sang along to the opening of the song, her words stretching like taffy. Her voice was all right, but nobody sang it like Ella. She supposed that was because nobody but Ella was Ella, so she didn’t feel too bad. Still, she listened to the record every night. The song felt oddly appropriate, even if what she was selling was nothing like love.
“When the moon so long has been gazing down
On the wayward ways of this wayward town.
That her smile becomes a smirk,
I go to work.”
She’d keep listening to it until the record cracked. Or until she did, she thought, with a smirk of her own.
The moon, indeed. Some hotshot politician had been on the radio the other day, talking about how seamy and unseemly their little corner of the world was.
Ah. Now she remembered the words.
“Some nights the man in the moon blushes for shame when he sails over Times Square west of forty second street.”
She didn’t normally remember things like that word-for-word. It must’ve been something about his voice, because the words rang clear in her mind. Like a grumpy bell. The old frump didn’t know what he was talking about, at any rate.
The moon blushing for shame indeed. She harrumphed as she pulled the rollers out of her hair. She wasn’t sure why she bothered with the hair rollers or the lipstick or the rouge. The Johns didn’t seem to care what the hell she looked like, so she supposed it didn’t matter if she looked like hell. The ones who came here didn’t come for love or companionship. And to them, one girl was the same as another. But she couldn’t help but take some pride in her appearance.
If the moon was blushing, it wasn’t for shame. Whatever was happening in times square had been happening in dark corners for as long as people had walked the earth.
She shrugged. Geography didn’t hardly seem to matter.
And she was sure that jaded old moon had seen worse.
“Who-oooo will buy…. Who would like to saaaample my supply-ieeee.”
Now she was really getting into the swing of it.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
“Knock it off, will ya?”
She turned off the record and snickered a bit to herself. It sounded like Louise downstairs had already opened up shop for the night. It was funny to her somehow…. whores in a cathouse used the same method to shut up their neighbors as old ladies in slippers and housecoats did. Somehow, the good ol’ broom knocking against the ceiling was always reliable.
She wrinkled her nose as she applied rouge, looking at herself in the cracked, foggy mirror. She’d never liked the word cathouse. She didn’t like to think of women as cats. But whether or not women were cats, men were most definitely dogs. She’d known enough of them to be certain of that.
A loud male groan echoed up through the floorboards and she giggled as she buttoned her dress. Sounded like Louise’s first client of the night was something of a minute-man. She paused for a moment, mid-button, listening.
She didn’t make a habit of listening – she found she heard things she didn’t want to and often couldn’t forget – but thin walls and thin floors make for over-informed neighbors.
Something about that voice – that man’s voice – sounded familiar.
The traditional religious appeal made itself heard – that same man’s voice, over and over again. She’d always found it funny, the way people appealed to God when they were sinning.
That voice…. Just… that voice.
The words were distended and stretched into a half-groan that time.
She finished buttoning her dress and smiled to herself.
The man in the moon might well have blushed at all of the goings-on in Times Square, she smirked, but she suspected the good ol’ Judge would be better off worrying about blushing faces a little closer to home.
This story was written with Prompt #2 in mind.