MAY 31, 1935
At the moment I met Evy in front of the garden, everything seemed to disappear. I could smell the flowers, but I couldn’t see them. I could hear the birds chirping, but I never once looked at the sky to prove their existence. Evy doesn’t devour my senses, but she enhances them in a way that allows me to believe in beauty without seeking it out. I no longer need to depend on the sights and sounds to know I’m alive. The pounding of my heart is enough to remind me.
He sat waiting on a bench under a wooden trellis that was climbing with clematis and surrounded by larkspur. A nearby archway announced Idlewood Park, and the screams of amusement echoed from within. He’d heard about the wooden roller coasters, about the swings and the carousel. He’d never experienced something like that, though. At the beginning of the week, he’d been excited to see it. After meeting Evy, he was more excited to see her. He looked at his pocket watch, then back up to see her watching him from a few feet away.
“You thought I wouldn’t come?”
“I’m just impatient.” He approached her.
“You didn’t strike me as the impatient type.”
“Only when it comes to fast wooden death contraptions.”
“We tend not to kill people around here. It’s bad for business.” She held out her hand, in what he believed to be a forward move. “Shall we?”
“You’re not going to ask my name first? Just partake in some handholding with a random stranger?”
“You can tell me your awful name when you’re ready.”
“Why do you think it’s awful?”
“Why else would it be such a secret?”
She continued to hold out her hand until he took it.
“Are you up for the death contraption first, or would you like to work your way up to that?”
“You’re the guide. You tell me.”
As they approached the ticket booth, he reached into his pocket for money with his free hand.
“Who is your friend, Miss Stone?” the boy at the booth asked.
Evy looked to him, hoping he might introduce himself. “He goes by Henry.”
“Nice to meet you, Henry. Enjoy your evening, ma’am.” He pulled two arms lengths of ride tickets from the reel and handed them to Evy.
“Thank you, Michael.”
She pulled him along as he shoved his money back into his pocket.
“I told you not to bring any money.”
“The woman shouldn’t have to pay.”
“Did you see me pay?” She smiled coyly, spinning towards the rides. “What ever shall we do first? Something for beginners? No, no. We should save the carousel for last.”
His interest in the rides waned with the newfound mystery about Evy. “Wait a moment, first. I see I’m not the only one using an alias.”
“We’ll ride the Ferris wheel. Why, I’m deathly afraid of heights. And when we stop at the top, we can tell each other our real names. But first, the other attractions. The view from the wheel is best when it’s dark.”
“Whatever you say, Miss Stone.”
“Please, call me Evy.” She placed her finger on her chin. “I don’t want you to be anxious all night. We’ll get The Wild Cat out of the way.”
“The roller coaster. It was a magnificent feat when they built it. Everything, precise. Amazing. I never had the wherewith-all to think something through that way. From every board and screw and chain to the end result. Have you?”
“I spend my days putting rocks into the side of a cliff. Do I seem like the type who thinks things through?”
“Actually, the rock placing seems like a more skilled job to me. Honestly, the men who dig the wall out, they have the worse job. Don’t you agree? With the rocks, you have to think a bit.”
“It becomes routine. No thinking involved.”
“You’re a real mystery, Henry. I’m not exactly sure why you’re stacking rocks anyway. It seems that you have some education.”
“How do you read people so well?”
She smiled. “Practice. So, tell me, where did you study?”
“First semester at Princeton. Second at Columbia.”
“Ivy league. Not for the faint of heart. And how does one go from ivy league to rock wall?”
“There’s a matter of tuition to be paid.”
“You see, I just went. I didn’t enroll. It’s a way to get by — pretend you’re in college. With a wink and a smile, fool your professors into thinking there was a mixup at the registrar’s office. Assure them you’d have it straightened. After a week or two, nobody remembers you or your problems, so you go along and take the classes and eat in the cafeteria and eventually you find a dorm room that’s been abandoned.”
“You’re not joking,” she said, eyebrow raised.
“I might have a couple of secrets, but I’m not a liar.”
“How was old Princeton, anyway?”
“Atrociously boring. Everyone talked quite a bit about money, and I had no interest in that. Then they would go on about football, sitting in the pub, disagreeing for the sake of an argument. All very boring. I preferred to spend more time in the company of the better gender.”
“Better? Oh, we’re better, are we?”
“I believe it to be true.”
“What every man knows, but no man will admit.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because if it weren’t true, men wouldn’t be so afraid to include us in the important things.”
“I suppose you’re right. But you speak of it like an observer, and not the oppressed.”
“Because I didn’t have to grow up like that, Henry. And I’ve rarely had to experience it for myself. I never knew of gender inequality until the ninth grade, when I wasn’t allowed to run for a class office.”
“Did you fight it, though?”
“No. It was unimportant to me. The big picture, well, it’s much bigger than that and I felt it would be better to invest the energy into being smarter overall than winning one election. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
“So, is there an underground movement to overthrow us men?”
“Now, why would I tell you that? You’ve got the wrong parts to be included in that conversation.”
He held back laughter. “Mentioning my parts, are you?”
“Why not? Men seem to find out everything about women — take the Hollywood starlets for example. It’s common knowledge — the size of their bust and their waist, and their natural hair color, if you get my drift. But men keep the size of their privates quite the secret, now don’t they? If we were to be planning a coup on your gender, our first agenda would be to publicize information about your private regions, just as you do to us. Have whole magazines dedicated to it. Like Snappy Stories, but all men.”
“Don’t take offense to this, Miss Stone —“
“Evy. But, I’d gladly show you my parts should you want me to entertain you with them sometime.”
He braced himself for a smack, or at least a warning. But, instead, she leaned towards his ear and whispered, “Likewise.”
MAY 31, 1935
I was surprised at how smartly he was dressed. He almost reminded me of one of the boys from Auntie Wil’s circle, but kinder and more honest. Those boys wanted only one thing from someone like me. Auntie Wil never would accept that I wasn’t on their level, that I was born with a past that I couldn’t divorce, and that well-dressed boys who lined their pockets with their fathers’ money weren’t courting her niece in the hopes of anything but one moment of bliss. At least when I succumbed, I only did it at my own will, because I had no name to protect and I wanted to experience life. And that thought left me wondering if Henry put any merit on a girl’s reputation. I decided to find out.