Five months before, she was living the life she was supposed to be in Brooklyn. At the time, an argument could have been made that it wasn’t much of a life at all. Up at dawn every day, fighting the morning foot traffic, a throng of businessmen in suits and aspiring social climbers in skirts, so she could make it to the coffee shop on the corner of 8th and Jessup.
Six days a week, the same exact scene. Pulling the frayed hair net on over her plume of flaxen locks. Zipping the heavy polyester uniform up from mid-thigh clear to her chin, the material faded from years under bright fluorescent lights. Ignoring the smell of old coffee and stale sweat that clung to her skin. Serving unappreciative patrons that wouldn’t even look up, reducing her entire being to nothing more than a robot that had nice legs and could pour coffee.
One time she had smeared a streak of grease, thick black globules stretched from the corner of her eye all the way to her chin, just to see if anybody would notice.
Fourteen hours a day she was on her feet, fetching coffee and collecting tips that never exceeded five percent. At night, she returned to her one bedroom efficiency on the edge of the Flatbush neighborhood, ignoring the sounds of gunfire in the distance. Alone in the kitchen she would sit and eat a Spartan dinner, bathed in neon light from the sign on the liquor store next door, pretending not to smell another trash can fire burning on the corner.
That was about the time that her grandmother came to visit.
Not to see her, mind you, to see a show.
Her grandmother had made a living out of being a wife, and she was quite good at it. Not cooking or cleaning or sewing or even being married, but being a wife. She had started out a penniless girl from the Bensonhurst neighborhood, taking her first chance to be a wife at the age of sixteen. Nine months later she was back on the market again, a big bag of money under each arm.
That was six husbands ago, each time leaving her pockets a little more full, her soul a little more empty.
Every so often she would leave her newly acquired perch in Greenwich and make the trek into the city for some high society occasion, no doubt a scouting expedition for her next conquest. On the rare occasion, she would even call and insist that her granddaughter, the only she had, join her.
Looking back, it was one such outing that started all of this. Her grandmother had come to town hell bent on seeing Picnic at the Roundabout Theatre, and absolutely insisted her granddaughter join her.
Prior to that day, she had never given two thoughts to Middle America. Never had any desire to get on a bus and head towards the setting sun. Had never thought there was a life out there beyond the one she was living.
It only took three hours of staring at that stage, watching Hal with his gleaming abs, Madge with her wide-eyed innocence, to put the spark in her head.
If that night had never occurred, there was no chance she would have even noticed the ad when it ran in The Post.
And there’s no way in hell she ever would have thought to answer it.