Our souls were famished. The war had dried them all out. We suffered through four years of pain and now its all over. We are happy now. Finally, after having so much weight pressed onto our shoulders, we found the strength to lift it off; free now, to appreciate our lives. Most of us, anyhow. Dolores doesn’t smile anymore. She used to be so cheerful, so content, but the war changed her so much she can’t smile. Poor woman.
Mary used to be depressed during the war as well, but she came out of it. Her boyfriend was a soldier who died on the battlefield. The girl spent days and days locked in her basement crying, just crying, until nothing came out. All alone, shaking, she somehow found strength to stop. Just like that. A week later she simply walked out, got dressed and cooked herself a meal. She was like that, though. She had inner strength, and lot’s of it. But sometimes she could only be strong enough for so long, and then, without any warning, collapse. Like that week during the war, she just fell apart, and cut herself out from the world.
I was feeling so empty at that time. Hollow, really. War has a way of doing that to you. Vacuuming the life out of you. I could get by only through spending time with Mary. But when she was locked in her basement, there was nothing I could do but be with myself. A horrible thing to have to do. Be alone with your thoughts, your fears - fears of the war coming here to Montreal, specifically. I felt so weak. I longed to have as much strength as Mary, which is probably why she couldn’t do it anymore. She knew she wasn’t as strong as she seemed, and couldn’t stand to be seen with such glorifying characteristics in my eyes.
And then the 1920's came.
“Is the war really over Dorothy? Is it true?”
“As true as anything will ever be”.
So then it was. Us women had found freedom. Independence from our feelings of anxiety so often controlling us during those hard times. We were so lucky. Now, in Canada, women could vote in Federal elections, a wonderful step towards equality. We could choose what we do with our lives. It was this renaissance of free thought that brought Mary and I out of our sadness, into, what we believe, is the greatest possible feeling imaginable. Confidence.
One might have called us flappers. The iconic image of the Roaring Twenties, so often displayed, was now a mirror reflection of ourselves. We smoked cigarettes, we bobbed our hair, wore skirts above the knee, and went dancing in clubs. We drank alcohol, listened to jazz music, and wore makeup. Oh how we felt doing those things! Invigorated, mostly, but we also felt like we were doing something, actually making a difference. Why? Only for the hope that one day women would be seen as complete individuals, and as equals to men.
* * * * *
‘Jazz’ was the name of the club Mary and I went to. Named simply ‘Jazz’ for no other reason but because they played jazz music. A truly wonderful place. Harry, the owner of Jazz, was a brilliant man, and a friend of ours since childhood. Even now, us both in our late twenties, Harry is still an important part of our lives. His club in particular helped us gain much needed confidence. Mary and I would go there every other Friday night from the first day Harry received his alcohol licence until even today, and we have no plans on stopping. We’ve spent so much time there it’s like a second home for us. We would hate to see it go.
“Dorothy, the stock market crashed today”.
“But the prices were as high as ever a few weeks ago!”
“How did it happen?”
“They say too many people invested, and the market borrowed too much money from the banks, and then they were too far in debt to come out again.”
“Well I don’t think it’s a big problem, it’ll just go back up again like always”.
“I’m not so sure about that”.
As it turns out, Mary was right. The stock market crashed on October 24 1929, and is continuing to go downwards. Mary and I both had invested almost all our money in the stocks. We would be poor by next week. Everything we owned would be simply gone.
This crash didn’t only affect us. Our beloved Jazz is going out of business right now. Harry says it will be closed by the weekend. Poor Harry, that club is all he has. Saturday will be a sad day in Montreal. For everyone. Friday will be the last night it’s open, and all of our friends will be going for one last party, a final goodbye to the greatest club we’ve ever seen. We need to be there not only for him, but for ourselves, as well.
Right then Mary drove up in her automobile, a model T Ford, the first model on the market. She waved at me, and invited me in.
“Dorothy! I’m here!”
I walked outside of my house and met Mary in the car, and we started to head towards Jazz. We had our finest clothes on, our most expensive makeup, and our brightest spirits possible. We wanted to have the greatest night at Jazz ever, for we would never go again.
About fifteen minutes later, we arrived at Jazz. A sandwich board outside the front door stated “As of Saturday October 26, Jazz will no longer be open to the public. Thank you for your patronage.” Mary and I walked past the sign and stepped indoors to the scene that met our eyes so many times the last decade.
A large archway sat above you as you entered. Three thick pillars sat in a straight row directly in front of you, supporting the building. Rows of tables bordered the wall on each side, with a creamy white table cloth draped over top of each. Neatly tied napkins are wrapped around the silverware, and empty wine glasses sit to the top of the plates, waiting to be filled. Resting in the middle of every table is a single wax candle. In the centre near the back is the dance floor where Mary and I have danced so many times it’s hard to remember each time. It is an empty and wide space, so the everyone in the room can dance on top of it. Together.
Mary and I are the only ones here right now, save Harry. He is waiting to greet us, as usual, with his open-mouthed smile we have grown to love.
“Welcome to Jazz. Please take a seat, and I will be around quickly to take your orders.”
We did as he asked, and sat at the table on the left closest to the dance floor. Soon after people we knew started filling in the empty tables, and eventually every table was occupied.
“Isn’t this a lovely candle, Dorothy? Do you have a match so we can light it?”
I reached into my handbag and pulled out my box of matches, caught one on fire from the side and lit the candle. A tiny little flame grew immediately, emanating a circle of light around it. It feels warmer than usual.
“Mary, why do you think no one else has lit theirs?”
“If they don’t light it, it can never go out”
By now it was 10:15 at night, and the dance floor was busy as ever. We saw Harry come marching through the crowd, and watched him find his way over to us.
“This party really is the bee’s knee’s, isn’t it, ladies?”
“Sure is, Harry”
Harry seemed in a strangely positive mood tonight, despite his club going out of business. I was glad for him; for wallowing deep in your sadness will only make things worse. Mary and I will never let that happen to us again.
Harry invited us onto the floor for a dance. We happily agreed. The live band switched from a slow song to a fast song, and everyone started the Charleston - mine and Mary’s favourite dance. As the song ended, we made our way back to our table laughing and smiling. Together.
At this time it was 11:00, and after multiple dances in a row, the crowd was slowly filtering out of Jazz. It was about half full now, and slightly quieter.
Harry left to go get a trolley to clean some empty tables, and when he got back even more people had left. As Harry lifted the silverware and plates and glasses into the trolley, Jazz was almost completely empty. When he rolled it into the back room, Mary and I were the only people left in the club. He walked out of the room, saw we were still here, and came over for one last goodbye. Even though we would see him again, we would never be together again in his club.
"Well I guess this is it, ladies. I’d best be getting back to my house now, but you fine girls can stay here long as you like”.
“Will do, Harry”.
Mary and I sat there in silence for what seemed like hours. Comfortable silence, though. It was the kind of silence where nothing needs to be said, not where we should be talking but don’t know what to say. Unbearably soon the sky outside the windows darkened ever more, and Mary suggested that we should maybe head home as well. ‘Soon’, I told her.
“Our candle is still lit, Dorothy”.
“Perhaps we should blow it out now. A flame can only burn for so long, then it must return to it’s original state, which in this case is darkness”.
“I guess that’s why no one else’s was lit”.
I took my eyes away from my friend’s to watch the candle. Our little candle flame was still there. Burning. It hadn’t gone out yet, and would only go out if we blew it out. It was beautiful.
“Procrastinating won’t make fate any different. It has to end sometime, Mary”.
“I know, but you can only enjoy it if it’s lit. Otherwise it’s empty”.
“Emptiness doesn’t have to be a bad thing”.
Mary leaned closer to me, and put out her arms. I opened mine too, and we hugged. Smiling. After all, we were together, and together, sadness has no effect on us. We learned so much during the last decade. The war had ended, and things were back to normal. Temporarily. For in just a single day, it all ended. The happiness and the wealth, anyways. Just like our little candle, in a single moment it can all disappear. Perhaps. Maybe, it’s still there, hiding, retracting from everything else. Like poor Mary in the basement - she was still the same Mary, only apart from us. But what if it’s there but it stays hidden? Like Dolores. She was such a warm person before, but during the war it’s like the heat just disappeared. That would be awful. Truly awful. But it won’t be. For right now, everything is still warm. The heat between Mary and I is there, and it won’t ever die. Our candle will. But we don’t have to worry about that now. For right now it is there, and for the time being we can enjoy it. We shouldn’t be afraid of the future. It’s still warm.
I looked back at the candle one last time. The flame was growing. Still growing.