See a Show, Smoke a Lucky ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Miss Bobbie Bouchard lived in an air-conditioned apartment on the fifteenth floor in an apartment building in the city. When her mother went into the hospital for an extended stay during the summer, she sent Bobbie to stay with her aunt and uncle on their farm a hundred miles from the city. Bobbie rode all that way on the bus by herself, feeling very grown-up and wishing she had bought along a pack of cigarettes to smoke on the way. When the bus stopped midway through the trip for a rest stop at a little café, she went inside and sat at a booth by herself and ordered a tuna salad sandwich and a Coke just like a seasoned traveler.
Uncle Floyd and Aunt Bernice had two children of their own, cousins of Bobbie Bouchard. Bobbie liked them well enough, even though they were younger than she was and they seemed awfully naïve. There was a girl named Freda, who was fourteen, and a twelve-year-old boy named Floyd Junior, who was just called Junior. Neither of them had ever gone to a show, smoked a cigarette or kept a secret from their mother. The only family secret was that Junior occasionally wet the bed, still, at his age. The doctor said it was an adolescent phase and that Junior would eventually stop doing it. In the meantime he advised Aunt Bernice to buy a rubber sheet.
Bobbie was just as naïve about the farm as Freda and Junior were about the way things were done in the city. She thought chickens were strange, exotic creatures and a pig was a kind of dog that might bite her if she got too close. She could hardly believe that you could go all day on the farm and not see any people or cars and hear nothing except the wind in the trees and the sounds the farm animals made. At night the crickets kept her awake, but after three or four nights she didn’t notice them as much.
When Bobbie saw in the newspaper that there was a show in the town of Delford, about ten miles from the farm, and that they had a two o’clock matinee on Saturday, she asked Aunt Bernice if she and Freda and Junior might go. Wanting Bobbie to have as much fun as possible during her stay on the farm, Aunt Bernice agreed.
Saturday was the day that Aunt Bernice had to see her doctor in the city for her female trouble; Uncle Floyd would be driving her in his pickup truck. They left at nine o’clock in the morning and wouldn’t be back until evening. Before she left, Aunt Bernice gave Bobbie a wad of bills from her egg money and put her in charge of the trip to Delford to see the show, since she was the oldest. She was to watch out for Freda and Junior and make sure they were careful and that nothing bad happened to them.
After breakfast and after Uncle Floyd and Aunt Bernice had left, Bobbie and Freda were still sitting at the kitchen table. Bobbie was telling Freda a funny story about a family of midgets that lived in her apartment building in the city. There was a write-up about them in the newspaper. They had tiny furniture made especially for them, a tiny bed, table, sofa and chairs just a little bit larger than doll furniture. They had a special-made door on their apartment, with the knob and the lock about knee-high to a normal-sized person.
Bobbie stopped mid-sentence and looked appraisingly at Freda. “You have hardly any eyebrows at all,” she said.
“What?” Freda asked. She had difficulty making the transition from midgets to eyebrows that fast.
“Hold on a minute!” Bobbie said.
She ran into the bedroom she shared with Freda and when she came back she was carrying a makeup kit. She unzipped it and took out an eyebrow pencil and gently penciled in where Freda’s eyebrows would be if she had any.
“You look just like Joan Crawford!” she said when she was finished, handing Freda a mirror.
“Like who?” Freda asked.
When Bobbie saw the effect of a little eyebrow pencil, she wasn’t going to stop there. She endowed on Freda’s face a full complement of makeup, including rouge, lipstick, mascara and eye shadow. Not too much but just the right amount; if she had learned anything at all in the city, it was how to apply makeup. Freda had never worn makeup before and was amazed at the way it made her look. When she looked at herself in the mirror, she saw a much older, more sophisticated girl looking back at her.
“Mother would die if she saw me like this,” she said.
“You look great!” Bobbie said. “Your hair ruins it, though.”
She seemed to have a solution for everything. She just happened to have a curly blond wig in her suitcase. She went to the bedroom and brought it back to the kitchen and put it on Freda’s head, covering up her own lank, colorless hair with it, tugging it until it was in place and pushing the stray strands underneath.
“There!” she said, handing Freda the mirror. “Now you look like somebody.”
“That’s not me,” Freda said.
Junior came into the kitchen with his hair slicked back, wearing his favorite blue plaid shirt. When he saw Freda, he said, “Who are you supposed to be?”
“Doesn’t she look glamorous?” Bobbie said.
“Daddy is going to kill her!”
“He’ll never know about it,” Bobbie said.
“And you’d better not tell him!” Freda said. “If you do, I’ll tell him and mama about how you skipped Sunday school.”
“I didn’t skip Sunday school,” he said. “I just didn’t go.”
“I hope I don’t see anybody at the show who knows me,” Freda said. “They’re bound to tell on me.”
“You look so different nobody would ever know who you are,” Bobbie said with a laugh.
They walked half-a-mile up the highway to the crossroads to catch the bus to Delford. Bobbie carried a big patent leather handbag that contained the money to ride on the bus and see the show, along with a headscarf, cough drops, lipstick and some other things she might need. She still had not been able to come by any cigarettes since she had been on the farm, though. Freda felt funny at first in the wig and makeup, but after a while when she realized people weren’t staring at her she felt more comfortable.
The bus ride to Delford, at about fifteen minutes, was all too short for Bobbie Bouchard. After being on the farm for several days, she was happy to be moving again and to see people. There were hardly any people on the bus and they were very quiet, absorbed in their own thoughts. Nobody paid any attention to Bobbie, Freda and Junior. Junior sat in a seat by himself and looked out the window at the passing scenery as if he had never seen it before. Bobbie talked the whole time about motion pictures she had seen and about her favorite motion picture actors and actresses. She found it very nearly incredible that Freda and Junior had gone their entire lives and hadn’t seen a motion picture. She felt sorry for them and didn’t know how they could have stood such a life.
The bus let them out at a little gas station on the edge of the Delford downtown business district. It was an easy walk to get to the show and the stores that lined the two streets, Main Street and First Street. Bobbie told Freda and Junior to wait for her for a minute while she went into the gas station. They thought she needed to use the restroom, but when she came out they saw that she had bought a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes, with a complementary book of matches, which she ostentatiously placed inside the patent leather handbag.
Bobbie was a little disappointed that the movie that was playing was a western—she much preferred musicals or love stories—but she was willing to see the western for Freda and Junior’s sake and not complain about it. If she had been in the city, she would have had four or five movies to choose from. In a little town like Delford, though, when a western was playing, a western is what you saw.
There was lots of action in the movie, lots of riding and shooting. When the characters in the movie, mostly men, weren’t sitting around in the saloon talking and drinking beer while they played poker around a big table, they were riding horses through the desert or getting into fights or shooting at each other from behind big rocks. The sheriff of the town had a red-haired girlfriend with big breasts who was always crying and begging him to take her away and marry her. She had a brother with a big scar on the side of his face that gave him a lopsided grin. He was a cattle rustler and a murderer and the mortal enemy of the sheriff. The red-haired, big-breasted woman was torn between her love for the two men, one her brother and the other her sweetheart. In the end there was the inevitable showdown between them, the struggle between good and bad.
When the show was over, they still had plenty of time before their bus back to the farm, so they went to the Idle Hour Café across from the courthouse. They sat at a booth next to a window. After an elderly waitress in a black-and-white uniform came and took their order, Bobbie opened her purse and took out her cigarettes and lit one as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
“Did you like the show?” she asked Junior.
“I liked it fine,” he said. He never seemed to have too much to say about anything. “Can we go again sometime?”
“I don’t think your mother would like it if she knew you were smoking,” Freda said, looking over her shoulder to make sure nobody was looking.
“She’s not here, though, is she?” Bobbie said. “Would you like to try one?”
“I’d like to try one,” Junior said.
“You’re twelve years old,” Freda said.
“Go ahead and take a puff,” Bobbie said. “Nobody’s looking.”
“Only if Freda does it first,” he said. “Then she can’t tell on me if I do it.”
“I’m not going to do it,” Freda said.
“Then I won’t either,” Junior said.
Bobbie placed the cigarette on the ash tray and slid it across the table to Freda. “Nobody’s looking,” she said.
“Go ahead,” Junior said.
Freda picked up the cigarette and took a small puff and blew the smoke out as quickly as she took it in.
“It doesn’t count if you don’t inhale,” Bobbie said.
Bobbie took the cigarette back from Freda and showed how to take the smoke into the mouth and draw it down into the lungs before letting it out. Freda tried doing what Bobbie had done but started coughing.
“It tastes terrible,” she said, “and it burns my throat.”
“You get used to it after a while,” Bobbie said.
“Now let me try,” Junior said.
He took a couple of preliminary puffs before making a show of trying to inhale.
“I don’t think you did it right,” Freda said.
“Close enough for twelve,” Bobbie said.
“Can they put you in jail for smoking?” Junior asked.
“Smoking is silly,” Freda said. “I don’t know why anybody wants to do it.”
“It’s very sophisticated,” Bobbie said. “All the best people do it.”
While they were eating, an older gentleman with a big belly and a toupee stepped up to the table and snapped Freda’s picture with a camera he had hanging around his neck. “Pardon me,” he said. “I wonder if I might have a word with you.”
Freda looked at him, bewildered. She thought it had something to do with the cigarette. “Yes?” she said. She put down her hamburger and wiped her fingers. She half-expected to be handcuffed and led away.
“I couldn’t help noticing you sitting there in front of that window. Your face stands out above all the others.”
“What?” she asked. “I was just sitting here.”
“The way the light shines through the window behind your head, I think you would photograph very well.”
“What are you talking about, mister?” Bobbie asked. “You’re scaring the poor girl.” She had learned how to deal with his type in the city.
“May I?” the man asked, stepping closer to Freda. He put his finger under her chin and lifted her face. “You have a very interesting physiognomy,” he said.
In the excitement of riding on the bus, seeing the show and eating in a restaurant, Freda had forgotten she looked like somebody completely different from who she was. “I, uh, this is not me,” she said.
“I’m a casting director for a motion picture production company,” he said, handing her his card. “We’re shooting a picture locally and want to hire some non-professional actors for some of the smaller speaking parts. I think you might be right for one of the parts.”
“A part in a movie?” Bobbie asked.
“Well, perhaps,” he said. “That is, if she’s available and interested.”
“I, uh, I don’t know,” Freda said.
“Are you a minor?”
“He’s asking you your age, dumbbell,” Bobbie said.
“I’m fourteen,” Freda said.
The man took a step back. “You look older than that,” he said. “You look about sixteen or seventeen.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling her,” Bobbie said.
“No matter,” he said. “Since you are a minor, have your parent or guardian call us at the number on that card and we’ll arrange a time for you to come in and talk to us.”
“She sure will, mister!” Bobbie said. “And thanks.”
The man tipped his hat and walked away.
“What just happened?” Junior asked.
“Imagine that,” Bobbie said. “A part in a movie!” She didn’t know whether to be jealous or terribly happy for Freda, so she was both.
Freda laughed. “They wouldn’t want me if they knew what I really look like underneath.”
“Don’t be silly,” Bobbie said. “They don’t care about underneath. They care about what they can see.”
“It’s just about the silliest thing that’s ever happened to me,” Freda said, flushing with embarrassment.
“I told you you looked great and you didn’t believe me.”
“Are they going to make you a movie star?” Junior asked.
“It’s too ridiculous,” Freda said.
“You’ll call, won’t you?” Bobbie asked. “Just as soon as you get home?”
“No,” Freda said. “I can’t call. It’s not me they want. It’s somebody who doesn’t even exist.”
“Have Aunt Bernice call.”
“I can’t have her know about this. She’d just about die.”
“So does that mean you’re not going to call?”
Bobbie considered calling herself and saying she was the girl the man saw in the restaurant, but she didn’t know if she would be able to pull it off. He would know as soon as he saw her that she was somebody else, the “other girl” who didn’t even rate a second look.
When they left the Idle Hour Café, they still had more than an hour before their bus, so they walked around, looking in store windows. Bobbie smoked on the street and tried to get Freda and Junior to light up, but they refused. They had smoked once already and that was enough. All the fun had gone out of it.
Bobbie tried repeatedly to talk Freda into calling the number on the card, but Freda wanted no part of it and she refused to let Bobbie call on her behalf and pretend to be Aunt Bernice. She wanted to forget all about it, she said, but, above all, she wanted to keep Uncle Floyd and Aunt Bernice from ever knowing about it. She made Junior promise not to ever mention it. If he should forget and let it slip, she would tell them he had smoked. Never mind that she had smoked, too.
Bobbie believed that Freda was passing up the chance to be a big star, maybe even bigger than Linda Darnell, Rita Hayworth, or Susan Hayward. She believed a chance like that only comes along once in a lifetime. A part of her, deep down, though, was glad. She wouldn’t have to go through life seeing Freda a movie star while she herself was something less. She believed that things always work out for the best.
A few days later, Bobbie received a call from her mother. She was going home from the hospital and she wanted Bobbie to come home and help take care of her while she recuperated from an operation. Bobbie hated the thought of being cooped up at home taking care of her mother, but she promised to come back to the farm as soon as she could. For the next trip, she would think of all kinds of fun things for the three of them to do. She had some secret pictures she would bring along next time to show them.
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp