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  The Loose Fish Chronicles
  Excerpt From a Memoir in Stories  by Beverly A. Jackson
  •  The Green Dress — 1960
    Fancy Soaps — 1961
  •  Dreams and Dreads — 1961
  Sleeping With Marilyn —1961
  The Bermuda Triangle — 1963
  Old Bucks and New Wings — 1964
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The Green Dress — 1960

Dig it, Diana says. Marines. She and I sit at our usual end of the bar.

And indeed, five young beauties in uniform with ridiculously short hair saunter into our Village saloon, as saucy as geese. I shrug and light a cigarette, watching them through puffs of smoke. I have my eye on the blond one. He could be a cracker from Oklahoma or a rich boy from Connecticut. Who can tell in that spiffy little soldier suit? 

“How much you want to bet that the Dragon Lady hits on them?” Diana says. 

At the other end of the bar, old Kitty Polanski sits in her green dress with the low neckline and sure enough, is on those boys in a New York second. Diana sighs and signals to Jim, the bartender by circling a dainty forefinger over our glasses to give us another round. 

We call Kitty Dragon Lady because her breath is dank if you get close enough to talk to her. It is a cruel nickname, but apt. She has big spaces between her front teeth giving her an impoverished look in a face that is worn and ruddy from too much booze and too little skin care. We guess—we the young and the fortunate—that she is about forty, her body bellicose with wide hips and sagging breasts. And she often wears that shiny green dress. Each night as it gets later, she gets louder and cruder. But it is early yet, and she is making nice with the new blood.

By closing time, Jim the bartender who has eyes for my roommate, Diana, sets up a private party. He knows somebody on Jane Street with a pad. He invites the Marines along.

Ever wonder why they call them jarheads? Diana teases me, dimpling and tossing her long dark hair.

My blond is named Henry and turns out to be from Indiana. He loves jazz and so do I, and we sway by the jukebox and dance-in-place a little as he feeds quarters into the slot and pushes B5 over and over again for Ella’s “The Nearness of You.” He says they are twenty years old. They look younger to me.

You will come with me, won’t you? Jim says to Diana, pushing another free round our way. Diana says of course she knows a gentleman when she sees one.

After last call, the four of us push out into the snowy morning followed by two of the other Marines and the Dragon Lady. Diana is a little drunk, and her eyes shine up at Jim. Henry and I link arms and stick our tongues out to catch snowflakes. Diana and I exchange smiles. It is wonderful to be twenty-one, to be free, with beautiful men on our arms. The flakes of the wet snow catch on Henry’s lashes, and no night has ever felt so light, so right.

The pad is a low-ceilinged one-bedroom in a walkup. The refrigerator is stocked with beer. Diana sniffs. We don’t drink beer, she says. Jim disappears into the bedroom and emerges with a bottle of vodka. Never fear, Jim is here, he says. There is a buzz of current in the place. We are nervous. Our hands are cold. Henry turns on the stereo and turns off the overhead. The one lamp in the room casts a yellow pallor on our faces. 

The other two Marines come out of the kitchen with beers, and lead the Dragon Lady into the bedroom. They don’t close the door. When I glance in, I can see her on the bed, her white thigh exposed under the wrinkled, green clutch of her dress. My stomach lurches and I turn to Diana. We can hear quick breathing and groans and then Kitty screams out “fuck me, you bastards, fuck me.” 

The living room seems to freeze for a moment, the four of us fossilized in amber light. And then the spell breaks in slivers of sound and action, and I can hear my heart thudding. Diana reaches for her coat in a ballet of slow motion...Jim's stricken face is suddenly old and Mel Torme skats inanely on the stereo. Green, I say. That hideous green.

Don’t cry, Henry says, Oh, please don’t cry.

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  © Beverly A. Jackson, 2011
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