The Mallory Project

"Find something you're passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it." – Julia Child

CHAPTER ONE

For those of you who’ve been paying attention (haha, like there’s been so much to pay attention to), I’ve been working on a novel for a while now. I have finished the first draft, and the second draft, and the third draft… And I’m ready to share (parts of) it. I’ve started by posting the first five pages here. Several more will come, until I have the whole first chapter.

Please read it and let me know what you think!

***

Chapter One

Evangeline

Evangeline didn’t think she’d ever been this hot in her entire life.

She read over the new bar menu, attempting to memorize the new specials Cook had dreamt up. She fanned herself here and there with the small piece of paper. In all her 16 years, she’d never felt a heat wave like this. And especially in January. Sweat trickled down her back, pooling between her shoulder blades, dampening her corset.

It was the kind of heat you can see, in the ripples floating above the tar roofs; the kind of heat that buckled the sidewalks; the kind of heat that made glasses of ice water as wet on the outside as they were on the inside.

Evangeline tossed the menu onto the sticky bar top and picked up the morning’s paper. She didn’t usually read the newspaper, but she liked looking at the headlines. That way she could talk to her customers without feeling too much like a dunce.

“President Wilson to address Senate today” read the two-inch tall letters sitting above a grainy photo of President Woodrow Wilson shaking hands with someone identified as the British Prime Minister.

“Well, it’s better than hearing about that awful war,” she whispered.

“What’d you say?” Etta called. Her friend was standing at the opposite end of the bar, wiping out glasses. Etta was swelling like an overripe tomato from the heat, turning her round face even rounder. Her hair curled out of its bun, strands here and there sticking to her neck.

Evangeline touched her own hair. Sure enough, it stuck out just like Etta’s did. No matter what she did, she couldn’t get her curly hair to sit flat with all this wet air. Etta said it looked like a halo. Evangeline thought it made her look like a mangy dog.

She reached for the menu to fan herself again, but accidentally knocked it to the floor instead. She considered bending over and picking it up, but she decided against it. She was just too hot. Instead she folded the newspaper in half and fanned herself with that instead.

“Nothing,” Evangeline answered. “I was just saying, what I wouldn’t give for a cooling rainstorm.”

She’d tried to prop open the windows earlier, in order to cool off the room. The windows were big, taking up an entire wall, and heavy. Evangeline and Etta had only been able to get one open, and only lifted it a few inches. They were hoping a breeze would come in, but the only thing they got was the sour smell of the marina.

“We should close the window,” Etta said. “That smell is just awful.”

“It don’t bother me none,” Evangeline said. The marina was her home. It always had been, and it always would be.

Her newspaper fan wasn’t really helping her much. It just moved the wet air from one place to the next. She tossed the newspaper onto the bar top like she’d done with the menu earlier. Some of the ink came off on her fingers, making her hands sticky. She wiped it on her apron, leaving a thick black smear.

“We’ve got some ice in the back,” Etta said. “Why don’t you go fetch some?”

“That ain’t my job,” Evangeline said. “I’m just supposed to…”

“I don’t care what you’re just supposed to do,” Etta said. “Louie’s sick and you said you’d cover for him. That means doing what he’d normally do. Like fetchin’ the ice.”

“Fine,” Evangeline sighed, but she went to the back to get the ice anyway.

“Gabriel coming in today?” she asked as she placed the heavy chunk of ice in its designated spot behind the bar. She found an ice pick and started to break apart the ice. It was hard work, but the spray of ice that came off with every hit and landed on her face refreshed her. 

“Nah, Sid said we’d be okay, just the two of us,” Etta answered.

“That man don’t know a thing about running a boardinghouse,” Evangeline said.

“And you do?” Etta asked.

“I know better than to leave the two Negro girls in charge on the day the boats start coming in.”

“Jimmy down at the docks told me he wasn’t expecting any boats today.”

“Jimmy done lied to you.”

Etta cocked her chin at the grimy window, through which a group of at least a dozen sailors, most likely fresh off a fishing boat, could be seen heading straight for their door.        

“Oh, bother,” Evangeline said.

The door squeaked open and the sailors came in, talking loudly amongst each other.

Etta called out a greeting and one man approached the bar. He must’ve been the captain, based on his clothes.

The rest of the sailors spread themselves throughout the room. The boardinghouse had the largest dining room in all of Theriot, Louisiana, but these big men somehow made it seem small.

 “Good evening, ladies.” The captain had a voice of gravel, a cigar-smoking voice. His face was tanned and lined from age. His gray hair stuck out in wild wisps underneath his cap. A cigarette hung loosely from his fingertips. “My boys and me, we’ll be needing a few rooms for the night. Will y’all be able to take us?”

“Yes, we certainly will,” Etta answered, taking charge as was her usual. “Will y’all be eating here as well, or goin’ into town?”

“Oh, we’ve been out on the Gulf for months. We’re tired and sore. We’ll be eating in here for supper, and likely breakfast too. We’ll also be needing baths. You have those, I hope?”

“We’ve got two upstairs. None private, though.”

A door in the back slammed open and shut. A deep voice called out to Evangeline. She left Etta and the captain to haggle over prices while she checked to see who was in the kitchen.

“Good afternoon, Cook,” she said.

“Afternoon, Ms. Bechet,” Cook answered. He never called her Evangeline, always called her by her last name, even though she was so much younger. She didn’t even know how old he was. He was ageless. His face has looked exactly the same for as long as Evangeline could remember. Even his hair was the same dark color. He’d been the cook here when her parents brought her in as a baby. He was also the best cook Evangeline had ever known. “What’ve we got today?”

“Some fellas just came in off a boat,” she said. “About a dozen of ‘em.”

“Then I better get my fire on,” Cook said. “Go find out if they want anything to drink.”

“I know what to do.”

It was only her third month working at the boardinghouse, but she knew how to waitress. Everybody kept telling her what to do, and no matter how many times she told them to, they wouldn’t stop. It was almost enough to drive a girl mad.

“Can I fetch you any drinks, sirs?”

The sailors were all laughing, talking over one another. Evangeline wanted to put her hands over her ears to block out the noise. As it was, she had to ask her question several times before someone answered.

“Sorry, dearie,” he said. He looked about as old as the captain, but his face wasn’t as lined and his teeth weren’t as yellow. He probably didn’t smoke as many cigarettes. “What you got?”            

“The usual,” she answered. “Water, beer, sweet tea, some speciality liquors. Those are pricey, though.”

“Beer’s good,” the sailor answered. “OI!” The rest of the sailors quieted at his shout. “Girlie here’s tryin’ to take our order. Y’all want beers?”

More shouts from all the sailors. The older one turned back to Evangeline. “Just bring out a beer for all of us.”

“Ya got it.” Evangeline turned away. The sailor cupped his hand on her buttock and squeezed. She shook her head and rolled her eyes. Men, no matter what age, no matter what color, all thought about just one thing. So long as they didn’t go too far, Evangeline didn’t much care what they did. And she found they’d buy more if she didn’t complain.

Etta helped her pour out the beers and deliver them around. She could carry trays with over six glasses balanced. Evangeline had trouble with just four glasses. The only time she’d tried more than that, she’d dropped the tray and broken all the glass, and Mr. Sidney had taken the money to pay for them from her paycheck.

She brought her tray to the closest table. Sitting with his back to her was the only black crewman. Evangeline didn’t know any black people who worked out on the ships. In fact, the only Negroes she knew worked in boardinghouses, restaurants, inns, as maids or nannies, or cooks or cleaning men.

She maneuvered herself to see his face clearly as she passed him his beer.

His eyes locked with hers and she felt a pounding in her chest, near where her heart lay. He had an attractive face, big eyes, full lips and cheekbones that could cut diamonds.

“Here ya go,” she whispered. “Best in the city.”       

He reached for his cup. His entire face smiled at Cosette.

His hand lingered on hers as he took the cup. Evangeline’s face flushed.    

“Thanks, miss,” he replied. His voice was deep and warm, like a chocolate cake just out of the oven. “What’s your name?”

Her throat was dry and it felt for a moment that she’d forgotten how to move her lips.

“E–Evangeline,” she choked out.

His low voice rumbled her name. “Evangeline. I like that. Evangeline.” It sounded exotic when he said it. Like he was rolling all the letters around with his tongue.

“And what’s yours?” Evangeline asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

Leave a comment »

%d bloggers like this: