PrologueApril 1964—DetroitTHE LAWN NEVER looked so grand. It was in truth a spotty thing—there was too much music being made inside the house to worry about some damn lawn. The grass ran flat out from the two-story with the wide stone porch, then sloped swift down three feet to the sidewalk. The sidewalk had children’s hopscotch games chalked on it, for this was a real neighborhood—Esmé had had a friend, Carla Swooner, in this part of Detroit when she was in grade school—and Esmé herself had played Devil May Care, Love Tag, and Ally-Ally-
Ox-in-Free a couple blocks away.Now Esmé was back, nineteen, driven by ambition yet dizzy at her audacity, and the lawn just swam before her. Her knees went a little weak as she made it up the cracked walkway. Her friends Grace Calhoun and Annette Brown, the other Darlingettes, were already there, waiting for her on the sidewalk.The three of them were sharp as could be. Esmé’s mom owned a string of beauty parlors, and the girls had talked themselves in for the works: nails, facials, and, once the pink curlers were pulled out, their hair in stylishly wavy bubbles with fiery spit curls teasing their cheeks. They were pretty girls when they sauntered in; eye-popping glamorous when they strode out.They’d spent hours—no, days—trying on outfits, and ended up in lustrous pale-green rayon sheaths, custom-fit by Grace’s mom, with dyed-to-match limeade shoes. Taps under each heel clicked up the steps to the front door, and they’d been rehearsing so hard their feet unconsciously fell into choreographed steps, a glide, shoulders out, chin up, slide again, that eased Esmé’s nerves. This was the Darlingettes’ second official audition with Fleur-de-Lys Records, this one with Bones Chapman himself, founder and owner of the company, and they were rehearsed as tight as their shoes—so tight they squeaked.“Hi,” Esmé said, giving her brightest smile to the receptionist behind a small wooden desk to the left of the open foyer. “We have an appointment with Mr. Chapman.”The receptionist, not any older than Esmé, was chewing a pencil, then making scratches over a sheet already so henpecked with markings that to Esmé it looked unreadable. The girl barely glanced up. Esmé, Grace, and Annette grouped around the girl’s desk, smiling like a Pepsodent ad. They were all up on the toes of their pumps.“Miss?” Grace was right in front of her; she lifted her voice sweetly. No, the receptionist wasn’t looking up. “Miss, we’re the Darlingettes, and we have an appointment with Mr. Chapman. It’s right now, 11 a.m. Is he in?”Chew, chew, scribble, scribble. The receptionist kept her gaze on her smudged sheets.“Hey!” This was Annette Brown. She was the one certified bad girl in the group, known on occasion to carry razor blades in her puffs of thick black hair, and her voice could cut like a hacksaw. “Hey, you! Look up at me.” At Annette’s sharp tone the receptionist chomped down so hard on her pencil she went right through it. Annette clicked her heels as sharp as gunshots, then shouted at the girl, “You, right this second! You call Mr. Chapman!”“Right now,” Esmé leaned in and said, then flashed her white smile and twirled her finger sweet-girl-like by her wide curls. “Please,...
Robert Dunn (Author)
Robert Dunn is the author of Cutting Time and Soul Cavalcade. He has taught fiction writing at The New School in New York City and has been published in The New Yorker and The Atlantic. He lives in New York City.