I don’t remember the year, but we were drinking sherry. Violet, Cookie and I. Life is just the waiting in between the two or three interesting things that will happen to you. We were teenagers, waiting.
Cookie said, “My father has a liquor closet as big as a hot air balloon.”
We looked at each other. That changed everything.
The second her father stepped out, we stepped into the closet and pulled the string.
There were so many bottles, we didn’t know what to try.
“They’re pretty much all equally good,” said Cookie.
We decided to try sherry. Cookie took a bottle off the shelf and filled our glasses.
“This is wrong,” said Violet.
“It’s the blood of Christ,” I said.
She drank it up fast.
After our second or third glass, Cookie jumped up and said, “If we’re drinking Sherry, we might as well dance with good-looking soldiers.”
Cookie logic, we called it. You couldn’t argue with it. Even Violet didn’t argue. She was the next one to jump.
The quickest way to DanceLand (no one had cars in those days) was through the cemetery. There were no lights in the cemetery, so you had to watch your step.
“It’s as black as…” I began, creeping along.
“As a really black piano,” finished Cookie.
Young eyes adapt quickly—a lucky thing, or we would’ve (and nearly did) run into an angel, a six foot stone angel brooding over a pair of graves.
It was common then for couples to be buried side by side, separately, and not one on top of the other as they are now. I suppose we were more prudish then, more English. These were typical husband-wife graves of the time—not headstones, but long beds of granite.
“I saw a set of these once,” said Violet, as we made our way along, “where the one died—the wife, I think—the day after the husband. Isn’t that strange?”
“It’s tradition,” said Cookie.
“Damn!” I said. I’d stubbed my toe on something.
“When I die,” Violet went on, “I’d like to be cremated, and kept on a shelf. It’s just a lot less fuss.”
“Well, I don’t want any fuss either,” I said. “I’d just like to be mummified. And a pyramid placed on top of me.”
In a few minutes, we were standing with our noses pressed against the windows of DanceLand.
Five or six dozen young men and women were inside, half of them dancing, all of them older than us by a few years.
“Just look at them,” I said.
“They’re so refined,” said Violet.
“You could dip them in tea,” said Cookie.
“Pardon me,” said a deep voice.
We turned around.
Three men were waiting to get inside. Airmen, with blue uniforms. And mustaches.
We stepped aside. As they brushed past us, they tipped their hats.
The first one, the one who’d spoken, had a thick mustache and a sunburnt face. The second was freckled, with green eyes and a rich orange mustache. The third—he must have been six foot five or six—had the biggest mustache. When he smiled, it shot him in the ears. He fired a warning shot as he walked past.
I grabbed hold of the door, just before it closed.
“Ready, girls?” I said.
“But…what will we do in there?” Violet said. She hadn’t had enough sherry.
I raised my eyebrows.
“Dance,” I said. “And act refined.”
Cookie said, “I prefer dancing.” She pushed past us and through the door.
“Maybe—” said Violet. But I grabbed her hand and dragged her inside.
The airmen were standing around the bar. Their hats were off, now. Their hair was soft-looking, thick. We stood there admiring them. Suddenly, we were dancing with them. That happens, when you’re young.
The one disadvantage of mustaches is the scratching.
An hour or two later, we were all outside, chatting.
“You live around here?” said the Sunburnt One.
“We’re the daughters of the Reverend Malley, the Rector of St. Peter’s Anglican Church,” said Violet.
I looked at Violet with a new appreciation.
The men raised their mustaches.
“Then it would be our pleasure,” said the Big One, kissing my hand, “to escort you home.”
Whether or not one touches a book or spends a minute in front of a blackboard, the teenage years are the educational years. I’ve been around the world. I’ve been to Cambridge. But I haven’t learned a thing, I don’t think, since I was sixteen.
Curious: the further we moved from DanceLand, the fewer buttons we had left on our dresses. Young men are magicians. By the time we reached the graveyard gate, I doubt we had a button between us.
I think Violet was the first to run. Soon we were all running—the girls from the men, among the graves.
Cookie went in one direction, Violet in another. I kicked off my shoes—I should’ve thrown them at the dogs—and dashed down the middle of the cemetery. Who chased whom I can’t say. But I tripped a dozen times. I picked myself up each time though, and kept going. That’s very English, too.
I’d just stood up again, when—
“Here,” whispered someone. Violet. “Over here.”
I slowed down. I changed course a little. I knocked my shoulder on something. I could hardly make it out. It was the wing of the stone angel.
A hand grabbed my own.
“Like this,” Violet whispered.
She lay down on either the husband or the wife grave. Flat on her back.
I lay down next to her. Not logical, I suppose. That was just how the men wanted us. But Violet wasn’t an idea person, exactly—really, she had no imagination—but she had a kind of instinct. When you were losing your wits, she’d say something, and it was absolutely the right thing, the only thing to do, always.
So when Violet lay down that night, I lay down too. When she folded her arms over her chest, I folded mine. When she gazed up at the night sky, I also gazed up. It was obvious—and so of course it worked.
The men circled the graves and the angel two or three times. But they didn’t see us. They argued for a minute. Then wandered off, singing.
Violet and I counted stars until “When the Lights Go on Again” trailed off, and the cemetery was as quiet as it had a right to be.
“Cookie,” we whispered, wandering about.
“Over here!” said a voice, not at all softly. “Right here!”
We poked around but her voice didn’t get any louder.
“Can you come to us?” I said, at last.
“No!” said Cookie.
“Why not?” said Violet.
No answer. We kept searching.
By accident, I’m sure, we found her. We were near the western edge of the cemetery when our friend’s voice—much louder, now—said, “Stop!”
We looked down.
There was a shadow on the ground. With something sparkling in the middle, yes. Eyes. Cookie’s.
“Took you long enough,” she said, from the bottom of an open grave.
“We looked everywhere,” said Violet.
“You should’ve looked here first,” said Cookie.
“Are you alright?” I asked.
“Just help me out,” was all she said.
Well, Violet and I got down on our knees. We each took and arm, and pulled. Cookie popped out of the grave. Then we all sat down, breathing hard.
Cookie put her arms around our shoulders.
“Let’s try brandy next time,” she said.
That’s Cookie logic for you.