Samantha’s hands were shaking as she took the dress from Vicky.
“The jewelry is on the table, and underwear is behind you.”
“Break a leg,” Lila called as she and the others trooped out of the dressing room, followed by Vicky.
Standing in the middle of the dressing room, the once-bloody red gown across her arms, alone in the long, narrow room, Samantha felt a chill go through her. Turning, she saw the couch, as always, covered with the discards of the women: torn hose, soiled blouses, heelless shoes. In the corner was another pile of clothes and Samantha knew without a doubt that buried under the heap was Maxie’s little traveling purse that contained the life savings of both her and Mike, about five thousand dollars in hundred-dollar bills.
Still trembling, Samantha draped the dress over the back of a chair and began to take her clothes off, then put on Maxie’s underwear. As before when she’d put on Maxie’s clothes, she began to feel as though she were a different person. It was almost as though the clothes had magical properties that transformed the wearer into someone else. And no wonder, Samantha thought as she pulled the silk gown over her head. What the dress had witnessed that night was enough to leave an impression on fabric.
A few days ago her grandmother had told her what had actually happened that night that had changed so many people’s lives. Maxie had told Sam everything up until she had walked out the stage door carrying her purse and Half Hand’s bag.
Samantha had listened to her grandmother, had even felt some of what she was telling her, but sometimes it seemed to Sam as though she were almost numb. Just days before she heard Maxie’s story she had been told that her mother had been tortured before she had been cold-bloodedly murdered. Wasn’t there a limit to how much a person could feel? How much a person could even comprehend?
With the dress on, she sat down at the counter to check her makeup.
“Ten minutes, Maxie,” came a man’s voice from outside the door.
In ten minutes she was going to have to go in front of these people and sing for them; she was going to have to do what Maxie did that night.
Abruptly, she looked at the closed door of the dressing room. It was dirty looking, but there were no lacerations on it. No one had tried to claw her way out of this dressing room.
Making herself turn back around, Sam looked in the mirror. She had to remember that this was just a play; she was acting and she was trying to help Mike. He said he was going to have pictures taken to use in his book and he was—
Bowing her head, she put her head in her hands. Ornette was playing outside now, and she was having difficulty remembering that this was just an act. She was having a very hard time not thinking about her mother and her granddad Cal’s loneliness after his wife had left him. Everything that she knew seemed to be screaming in her head, not being quiet as she usually managed to keep it.
It had all started on this night, everything that had happened began on this one long harrowing night: lives ruined, lives extinguished, hatreds kindled.
“I can’t do this,” Samantha whispered and started to get up, but then she saw a box of powder on the counter. It was an ordinary box, blue and white, with a big lambswool puff with a pink ribbon on top; the box was full of ordinary dusting powder.
Picking up the puff, she looked at it. Maybe it had started with the powder Maxie dumped over Michael Ransome’s head. For a few moments Samantha put her head on her arms on the counter
, releasing her mind to all that she had been told, not fighting it, but letting herself go, allowing herself to remember everything.
“You’re on,” Vicky said as she opened the door.
When Miss Samantha Elliot stood up, smoothing her blonde hair back in its perfect waves, she was Maxie, and she was ready.
Mary Abigail Dexter shot her fourth stepfather when she was fourteen years old, but by that time he’d been raping her since she was twelve. Her only regret was that she didn’t kill him. She’d meant to, but she was crying and hurting and angry, and her aim was off. Rather stupidly, she had aimed for his very small head and not his enormous gut, so the bullet had grazed the top of his hairy shoulder instead of landing in his mouth that was once again laughing at her.
But the shot and the sight of his own blood had startled the bastard long enough for Abby to get out of the shack of a house and run, something she’d repeatedly tried to do in the past without success.
She walked for two days, going without food, but that was nothing unusual for Abby because her mother was usually too drunk or too busy with men to feed her only child. When she was far enough away from her “home” town (a place that fully believed in condemning the child for the parent’s sins), she traded the gun for a one-way bus ticket to New York, a place where she hoped she could find anonymity.
When she got to New York, having spent as little as possible on food, she used what little money she had left on a cheap rayon dress, a pair of high heels, and a tube of lipstick, trying to make herself look as old as possible. Picking up a day-old newspaper from a park bench, she began to look for a job.
The only goal Abby had was to never live like her mother, who depended on the sexual desires of men for her livelihood. To men, Abby’s mother seemed to be a good-hearted whore, someone who was always good for a laugh, who would do anything at all in bed with them. But Abby had seen her mother’s desperation, for her mother had always dreamed of some man loving her and taking care of her forever. As Abby grew up, she learned that if a woman didn’t take care of herself, no one else was going to do it for her. She vowed that she was not going to be forty-seven years old and living in the squalor her mother did.
There weren’t many high-paying jobs for women listed in the New York paper and certainly none for an untrained, runaway fourteen-year-old. On her fourth day in New York, gathering her courage, Abby went to a bar in Greenwich Village and asked to see the owner to apply for a job as a cocktail waitress. The man took one look at her and said no, but Abby, by now nearly desperate, for she hadn’t eaten in two days, had slept on park benches, and had raw and bloody feet from walking for miles in the cheap high heels, began to beg. Begging was something she’d never done before, not even with all that her mother’s boyfriends and brief husbands—she often remarried but never bothered with a divorce—had done to her, but now Abby was begging.
“How old are you, kid?” the man asked, knowing that he had children older than this girl.
“Twenty-one,” Abby answered quickly.