Such a Dance

By: Kate McMurray

For Sean





“And I have been able to give freedom and life

which was acknowledged in the ecstasy of walking

hand in hand across the most beautiful bridge of

the world, the cables enclosing us and pulling us

upward in such a dance as I have never walked and

never can walk with another.”

—Hart Crane





Chapter 1

“Are You Lonesome Tonight?”

New York City, 1927





Left, right, left. Left, left, right, right, hop. Step forward, step back, hop, tip hat, blow the lady a kiss.

The steps were easy enough, the routine so committed to memory that Eddie could let a dozen other things swim through his mind without missing a beat.

He tossed his cane in the air and let it twirl. Light bounced off the polished silver shaft of it as the audience murmured appreciatively. Eddie caught it deftly, bowed a little, and moved his feet to the left, right, right, left, left, hop. He grinned at Marian, who stretched her arms above her head with grace, betraying her ballet training. Then she shuffled over to him, evidence of her years spent on the vaudeville circuit. She sang her lines in her trademark style, which sounded a bit like a goose honking, and the audience roared with laughter. She smiled and winked at him, and he grinned back and sang the end of the song. Left, right, forward, together, a flourish from the horn section of the orchestra. Then there were deep bows before the curtain fell. Applause erupted throughout the James Theater. Eddie and Marian did their goofy curtain call before retreating backstage.

Thus ended Eddie Cotton and Marian France’s act in Le Tumulte de Broadway, more informally Jimmy Blanchard’s Doozies of 1927, the variety act that was competing with George White and Flo Ziegfeld for ticket dollars and popularity. The song-and-dance team of Cotton and France was among the more popular acts. They were a comedy duo who told jokes, danced their way through physical comedy, and sang funny songs in funny voices. That year, they preceded the Doozy Dolls, fourteen barely-dressed chorines hired more for their looks than their dancing or singing skills.

While the Dolls paraded around on stage, Eddie walked back to his dressing room, Marian trailing behind him. She was already pulling off her shoes, and she padded past Eddie in stockinged feet. “I cannot wait to get out of here tonight,” she said.

“Hot date?” Eddie asked.

“Hardly.” Marian rolled her eyes, and then paused near the door of her dressing room. “I’m exhausted and my tootsies are killing me. I’d cut my feet off if it didn’t mean Mr. Blanchard would fire me.” She looked at Eddie, who chuckled. “What about you?”

“Nothing planned for tonight. Figure I’ll just go home and sleep so we can do all this again tomorrow.”

Marian smiled and kissed his cheek. “Good night, Eddie.” Then she retreated into her dressing room and slammed her door in his face.

Eddie went to his room to change. He wasn’t the least bit tired. No, his ailment was much worse: he was horny.

His restlessness had been building for days, starting as an itch and progressing to an all-out yearning, an uneasiness that wouldn’t be quenched by Eddie pushing his needs aside.

He considered his options as he changed out of his costume and slid into a pair of brown trousers and a white cotton shirt. He could go home and forget about it. He could keep his regular appointment with his right hand. Or he could find someone who would help him take the edge off.

He washed the stage makeup off his face and examined his reflection in the mirror. He hadn’t shaved in a couple of days, something Mr. Blanchard had taken exception to before showtime that day. The stubble looked like bronze dust on his otherwise pale jaw. His eyes looked tired. Eddie let his fingers dance over the black powder he kept on hand for the occasions when Blanchard wanted him to do blackface—thankfully, rare these days—and then dusted some over his eyes. He liked the effect, which created rings around his eyes and made him look a little less rosy and innocent, as he tended to present in his normal life. He grabbed his fedora from the shelf in the corner and plopped it on his head. He pulled the brim down so it hid his eyes. He thought himself hard to recognize as he posed in the mirror, his eyes hidden, his chin shadowed.

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