The speakeasy roared with jazz; the blasting of brass instruments filled the ears of the people on the dance floor. And for Charlotte, they filled the hole in her soul as well. She was out for a night of drinking with her boyfriend, John, and she was ready to, once again, forget her troubles. Yes, the flapper was ready to let the music and the spirits and the cocaine numb her.
And afterward, during the early hours of the morning, when the party had finally died down, her and John would polish the night off with some wild sex. This might simply mean a night of rope play—or, if Charlotte and John were lucky, it might mean bringing another girl home with them—or, if they were really lucky, another couple girls. The most they had ever managed was two, but both Charlotte and John wanted to try for three. They wanted to test the limit, see how many ladies they could pick up at once. (Much to Charlotte’s dismay however, John was completely opposed to the notion of bringing home another man.)
John, who had gone off to fetch their drinks, returned. He passed Charlotte a gin on the rocks, her favourite. As for himself, he was drinking a Bee’s Knees—a very popular gin beverage, one with lemon, and of course, honey, hence the name. Charlotte, however, preferred her gin straight.
Just once they had clinked their glasses were they out on the dance floor twisting and turning to the swanky sounds. For Charlotte, Friday night was everything. She worked for the weekend. Not only did her night life allow her to escape her soul-sucking existence in the coffee shop, but these nights—these nights spent out on the town—well let’s just say John was much less likely to get angry with her, much less likely to lash out.
John had his issues, but he was so handsome, what with his thick moustache and his bowler hat. He was very dapper, indeed. Any young lady would have died to be with him. (This did make it easy, picking girls up for sex parties.)
Yes, Charlotte knew she was lucky to have John. Sure, the bruises on her legs—how her short, black shift dress, featured them when she moved on the dance floor—this embarrassed her. But Charlotte simply refused to take John for granted. He never intended to hurt her; it’s just that John, like Charlotte, had some skeletons in his closet. He could be rather uptight. However, a night of drinking always loosened him up—this Charlotte trusted.
By and by, the dance floor awakened, until eventually it was packed. This was Charlotte’s meaning for life in an otherwise meaningless world: flaunting herself on the black-and-white checkered floor; showing off her legs—bruised as they may be—in her beaded dress; and seeing all the other ladies in their outfits, most of them not as scandalous as her own, of course.
Yes, the women of New York City were dressing more and more liberally these days, ever since they had been given the right to vote. Still, most of them were not so bold to show their knees, merely their calves. Most women were not flappers.
It was not long before another flapper said to Charlotte, “Time to iron our shoelaces?” Charlotte nodded and followed her into the bathroom. Once inside, the other flapper pulled out a bag of white powder, and the two of them had their first line of the night. When they returned to the dance floor, Charlotte remarked, “Now things are really happening!” And it appeared as though John had performed the same ritual with a few of his fellows.
They followed the routine they followed every Friday night: order a drink, dance to the jazz band, retreat to the bathroom for a bump, repeat. Normally, this would go on into the wee hours of the morning. Tonight, however, there was a disturbance…
“How dare you?!” It was John’s low, growly voice roaring at the man with the round glasses.
The man turned to face John; “I beg your pardon, sir?”
“I saw you looking at my lady’s bare legs! How dare you?!” And John grabbed the man by the shoulders and shoved him backward.
No one cushioned his fall. Instead, the crowd moved out of the way quickly enough for the man’s backside to meet a black checker on the dance floor. In fact, everyone who, just a moment ago, had been dancing freely, without a care in the world, now, was shuffling towards the outskirts of the pub. The musicians lowered their instruments, and the jazz came to an abrupt halt—a sad trombone, indeed.
“What is the meaning of this?!” the man with the round glasses cried—although he looked less offended and more nervous, nervous about what John might do next.
“You wanted to get with my lady!” John roared. “Well, you can’t! She’s mine! Understand? MINE!”
John had rendered the room practically silent, a tense quiet. Everyone was nervous. Sure, John had many admirers, but he also had a reputation.
Charlotte’s face, already pink from drinking—not to mention the inordinate amount of blush she liked to wear—reddened. Either very bravely, or very foolishly, she ran across the dance floor, in between John and the man who had met the floor. “John! Stop!”
John glared at her. It was as though he was a dragon, smoke leaking out of his large nostrils. “Stop? You want me to stop?” he repeated. “Sweetheart, I am doing this for you.”
The words came out of Charlotte very faintly: “For me?”
“Yes, for you. This man”—and John paused to shoot a finger at him—“has disrespected you. Looking at your bare legs? Honestly!”
The man, just picking himself up off the ground, retorted, “She has nice legs, John—although, honestly, I am more concerned with all their bruises.”
How could he? Charlotte thought, I risk my own neck to prevent him from getting seriously hurt, and to thank me, he points out my bruises in front of the entire speakeasy. Now I might get seriously hurt.
And, sure enough, John was declaring it time to leave; “I don’t want this one—or anyone—looking at you anymore!” He allowed Charlotte a moment to fetch her racoon-fur coat, and then he led her out onto the snow-covered streets of New York City, where under the Full Frost Moon, they would flag down a taxicab.
No crazy sex party tonight.
The whole taxicab ride back to their apartment, Charlotte and John fought, drowning the driver in their quarrelling:
“How could you?” Charlotte cried. “How could you embarrass me like that?”
“How could I?” John yelled back. “You’re the one who intervened! How do you think that makes me look? Well, I’ll tell you: it makes me look as though I’m not in control.”
“Well, you’re not!” Charlotte argued.
“Oh, yes, I am!” John demanded.
The driver said very little their whole ride home, only the bare minimum. He had heard of Charlotte and John, and their toxic relationship. He knew of how some of the other ladies envied Charlotte because she was with John—but he also knew of how some of the ladies, the wiser ladies, were concerned for Charlotte; how they had tried to intervene, tried to convince Charlotte to leave John.
(Being a taxicab driver was a great gig for a writer, as regular customers often gossiped with, or even confided in, their driver. This provided a never-ending well of ideas and inspiration.)
The driver wanted to intervene, to tell the two of them to cut it out. He wanted to tell John to treat Charlotte with more respect. And he wanted to tell Charlotte that she didn’t need John, that she could do better than him.
However, he was a shy man, a wallflower, and was much too nervous to voice his opinions. He only became more and more nervous, as the fight became more and more heated.
And the fight was heated. Actually, by the time he was dropping Charlotte and John off at their apartment, the fight had grown so heated that the driver wondered if he ought to call the police.
Unfortunately, he was too afraid of what John might do to him if he did, so he made no call.
The fight got worse when Charlotte and John were alone. It had already become less of a fight of mutual efforts, and more so John raging at Charlotte. And now, John was chasing Charlotte around their apartment, scolding her for being such a, as he put it, ‘trollop’.
“This is the kind of shit that happens when you decide to show your knees!” John cried, chasing Charlotte from the kitchen to the common-room.
“Oh, John, is it really my fault the man couldn’t control himself?” Charlotte cried, darting into the bedroom. There was no anger in her voice now; it had been replaced with fear.
“You didn’t exactly make it fair for him,” John went on, following her into the bedroom. “When you’re showing that much skin, how is he supposed to control himself? I know I wouldn’t be able to…”
With these last words uttered, Charlotte did wonder if John was about to take her to the bed, make love to her in his strange way. She wouldn’t have minded. No, she wasn’t exactly in the mood, but anything to settle John’s temper.
Instead, John turned to the closet and began rummaging through her clothes. “Just because it is now acceptable for a woman to show her calves doesn’t mean you have the right to dress like such a whore!” And then, from the rack, he retrieved at least five pieces. “All of these show your knees!”
“But, John, I like showing my knees,” Charlotte argued. Now was not the time to point out that a couple of the chosen garments actually hung just below the knee.
“You like it because you like being the centre of attention!” John accused.
“No, I like it because I like it. I just do. You knew this about me before you asked me to be your girlfriend. We met at the speakeasy. You saw that I live for the weekend. And getting all dressed-up in a fabulous ensemble—that’s half of the weekend’s fun.”
John was shaking his head. “But when you got with me, you became my woman! So, now, all these slutty clothes have got to go!”
And with that said, John began ripping Charlotte’s wardrobe to shreds, tossing the pieces of what were once her prized possessions to the floor.
Charlotte began crying, weeping, begging John to stop. Brewing coffees earned her but a modest living. She had worked hard to earn the money for these garments. Many of them, she had worn on so many wild Friday-night excursions that, time and time again, she had been forced to repair them: ripped seems stitched up, buttons sewn back on, stains removed.
Each piece had a personality of its own, and to see John just rip them in half—to see him rip her black chiffon skirt in half—to see him rip a slinky, sparkly, silver gown in half—to see him rip in half a black dress adorned in little golden beads arranged in a geometric pattern—it was as though he was really just ripping Charlotte’s soul in two.
And then into three. And then into four. John continued to rip and rip, and tear and tear, until ninety percent of her wardrobe—what had been her pride and joy—was in little pieces on the chevron tile floor.
At least he’s done, Charlotte thought bitterly. At least his rage is over and he didn’t take it out on me.
But John wasn’t done. He was just getting started. For when John saw Charlotte’s tears, he had no empathy, no remorse, only more rage:
“Really, Charlotte! This makes you cry?! Me destroying all your slutty clothes?!”
“I spent years building that wardrobe—”
“That may be so, but when we got together, you should have retired the bulk of it. Your knees should have been only for my eyes.”
“But I like showing—”
And then came the first slap across the face—Charlotte was all too familiar with these.
“I’ve heard enough about what you like!” John raged. “I am the man! How could you disrespect me so?”
Then came his hands around her neck. Charlotte was familiar with this too, although not as familiar.
She tried to cry out, to let John know he was hurting her, that she couldn’t breathe. But no words came, only strained choking noises.
“I don’t want anyone looking at you—only me! You hear? ONLY ME!”
The choking was going on a long time—longer than it ever had before, in fact. As Charlotte fought for breath, her dark eyes began to widen, almost as round as the Moon, Herself.
It was dawning on Charlotte just how drunk John was. How drunk he had to be. Yes, they had fought over her clothing choices before, but for him to rip her wardrobe to shreds, he would have to be completely gone, wouldn’t he?
As John growled and tightened his grip on Charlotte, it also dawned on her that he might not stop…
When Charlotte’s attempts to break free of John’s grip ceased, her body grew very heavy, so heavy she fell to the floor. Her eyes were still as round as the Moon, the light of which was spilling in through their bedroom’s bay window.
John stepped back. His eyes drifted from Charlotte’s body to his own hands.
And it dawned on him that it was just his bedroom window now.
It had been about a month of John living on his own. There had been times during which he had gotten lonely, but for the most part, he was fine.
“There is a certain type of girl that is fun to get with initially, but not someone you want to spend your life with,” John would routinely say to himself, attempting to justify his actions. “A flapper girl.”
John had covered up the murder with Charlotte’s own bad reputation. She had been a reckless girl what with how she drank excessively and dabbled in drugs—not to mention how she showed her knees.
On top of that, Charlotte was completely over the rainbow! Some days—Mondays were the worst—all she could do before and after her shift at the nearby coffee shop was lay in bed and sob. Much of the week had been like this, but come Thursday, and Charlotte would usually be coming out of it. And then, of course, Friday night had her over the Moon! It was then that her impulses would get the better of her: knees exposed, she would drink too much, and smoke too much, and snort too much.
John knew she was a wild one before they got together. That is part of what he had admired about her. But he hadn’t realized just how wild.
The rumours had been true, however. And this worked in his favour, for when he claimed that he was unsure about whether or not she had been intending on killing herself, or whether or not it had been a cocaine overdose—when he framed it as a ‘tragic accident’, and one due to her own reckless behaviour—everyone, even the police, believed him.
Frankly, the police had not shown any interest in the case. They hadn’t even bothered with an autopsy. While John had somewhat of a reputation with women, this was not nearly as bad as Charlotte’s reputation as a flapper. His hadn’t escalated to the level of the authorities. Past girlfriends had blabbed about his ‘anger issues’, yes. But the authorities knew, as well as John, that these women had embellished their stories.
On the other hand, Charlotte had been caught with cocaine in her purse. Many times, she had been spotted vomiting outside their routinely visited speakeasy. Vomiting and crying. Alcohol, while at first it relaxed her, after a while, it seemed to draw the madness out of her.
So yes, John had gotten off scot free, and rather easily too. Sometimes he still felt a little uneasy about it, but for the most part he had grown quite content with his new life. Tonight, he sat alone in what was now his bedroom, listening to his gramophone, sipping a Bee’s Knees, and looking up through the window at the Full Long Night Moon.
That was when it came—when she came. At first, there was a chill in the air. John, even though he had very little intuition, felt it. Then a voice sounded, beautiful and enchanting, but also sad and eery.
“Oh, John… are you all nice and snug in your bed of lies?”
And familiar. It was Charlotte’s voice, although different. Her voice echoed as though she was shouting into a cavern.
Then he saw her—her translucent figure—white, grey and silver—and still wearing her fur coat over her short, black beaded dress—still showing her knees. She came out from the closet, the closet where the scraps of her clothes had been stashed away, the closet where they had once hung, undamaged.
Her dark eyes glowed under her droopy eyebrows, like the embers of a fire not yet put out. Her lips, still painted red, wore a sly smile, the kind of smile she used to give the men who would stare at her knees—the kind of smile she gave that man on that fateful night, the night of the last Full Moon.
“John!” she called again, this time louder and much more menacing. “How is the view on top of your castle of cards?!”
She extended her arms out in front of her, at first similar to how John imagined a zombie would. But then her fingers extended. They seem to grow longer than her actual fingers were, longer than anyone’s fingers would be. Her fingernails—which, even in death, were still painted with that shiny black polish—grew too, resembling the claws of a mountain lion, or the talons of an owl.
She was coming for him. But was she going to strangle him, like he had her? Or was she going to claw his eyes out?
John sprung up from the reading nook in the bay window, and he dashed to the other side of the room. He retrieved his walking stick. There he stood in the doorway, clutching his cane, raising it in the air defensively.
“You fuck off!” he shouted at the ghost. “I thought I already got rid of you!”
The ghost’s smile grew. She almost resembled a fox, between her wily grin and her fur coat—an arctic fox. Arms still menacingly extended, she turned and continued floating towards John.
“Oh, John, are you a fool? You cannot get rid of me. Not now, not after what you’ve done.”
With this mentioned, John’s stomach churned. I’ve done something terrible, he thought to himself. Far worse than hitting, or even raping, a woman. I’ve murdered someone.
“This is the first time you’ve acknowledged your crime, isn’t it?” the ghost spoke, not lowering her arms, and still slowly moving towards him. “The first time you’ve acknowledged, even to yourself, that you murdered me?”
Tears pooled in John’s eyes; “Yes, Charlotte.”
“And you have gotten away with it thus far,” the ghost said disapprovingly, “all because the authorities have already noted me as ‘hysterical’, as a ‘lunatic’.”
Her words cut like a knife. “Yes, Charlotte.”
“Do you think that’s fair?” the ghost asked, with the same tone a school teacher might give her bad student.
“No, Charlotte, but—”
And then, still floating towards him, the ghost screeched, “How would you like it if someone you loved, someone you trusted, strangled you to death?!”
She didn’t even have to get all that close to him. Her elongated hands stretched around his neck. Her elongated nails dug into his skin.
Except, her nails couldn’t dig into his skin. In fact, the ghost was completely unable to touch John.
John did, however, feel a painful chill as the ghost of his former girlfriend flew right through him. It was as though he was being stabbed with a dagger made of ice. Reflexively, he swung and slashed his cane in all different directions. Likewise, this was in vain; his cane was unable to make contact with the ghost, just as the ghost was unable to make contact with him.
Charlotte’s ghost then flew all around the room. Madly and wildly. She was everywhere at once. One moment she was by the bay window, the next moment she was on the ceiling. Then she was by the wardrobe. And then she was right in front of John’s face, so close they could have kissed.
What happened to John has always been unclear. Many believe the ghost of Charlotte chased John around the room until dawn. I, too, believe this is the case. Then, of course, there are those who do not believe in Charlotte’s ghost at all. These folk believe it was merely John’s own guilt that drove him into madness.
Regardless, when dawn came, John had journeyed over the rainbow. He had been driven into a hysteria that gave Charlotte’s own hysteria a run for its money. In fact, he was driven so mad, the authorities had to lock him in the nut house. To this day, he remains a lunatic, and all he can do is curl himself up in a ball and rock back and fourth, fret and mutter nonsense. Sometimes, this nonsense includes: “I’m sorry, Charlotte! I’m sorry!”
He never really was without his beloved, Charlotte, the flapper girl.