Darla parted her long blonde hair on the side, letting a segment fall like a curtain across the edge of her right eye, à la Veronica Lake. Next, a bit of vibrant red lipstick to match her nails, and she was done. She rose from her dressing table and turned to examine her profile. The black lace evening dress with the crystal-beaded neckline was more than flattering on her. Lovingly, she placed a hand on the slight swell of her belly. Barely showing, she thought to herself.
She picked up her spangled clutch and snapped it open. Darla proceeded to slip in her lipstick, mirrored compact, embossed party invitation—and her grandmother's pearl-handled derringer. Loaded, of course.
Upon arriving at the gala event, Darla made straight for the open bar. No booze for me, she reminded herself. She ordered soda water, served in a champagne flute. In the glittering twilight of the hotel’s ballroom, no one could tell it wasn’t champagne.
She turned and surveyed the well-heeled crowd milling about the various objet d’art for sale, for this 1940s-themed party was disguised as a charity fundraiser. Darla sauntered over to the one display that snagged her interest: a small sculpture of a man and woman, not embracing, but pushing each other apart. The empty space between them was shaped like a heart. How appropriate, she thought. If I had the money--
Looking through this heart-space, she spotted him. Boyd, ever dapper in his tux, though he was short and slim with thinning brown hair. He always carried the latest accessories: a monogrammed gold cigarette case, matching tiger-eye cuff-links, his statuesque wife on his arm.
Darla stared long enough to catch his attention. When their eyes met, he raised his eyebrows in surprise, then patted his wife’s slender arm and made his way towards Darla, who in turn made her way to one of the ballroom’s many patio balconies.
She posed herself against the stone balustrade, throwing her head back to better reveal her plunging decolletage. Darla sank into the eclipse of his approaching shadow.
“What are you doing here?” Boyd asked flatly.
“I was invited, remember?” Darla sighed. “You made the arrangements, yourself.”
“That was months ago,” Boyd said, smoothing his sparse hair. “Things have changed.”
Instinctively, Darla’s hand went to her belly. A protective, maternal move. Boyd’s eyes slid down Darla’s body, then rose to meet her eyes.
“I told you to get rid of it,” he said coldly. He roughly grabbed Darla’s arm and dragged her into the blue shadows on the far side of the balcony. Inside, strains of Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” wafted from the retro big band.
Now it was Boyd’s turn to lean against the balustrade. He opened his cigarette case, tapped a cigarette on the lid—one of his little idiosyncrasies that Darla once loved—lit it with his gold lighter, and blew smoke into her face.
Darla opened her clutch, and retrieved the derringer. In the moonlight, the muzzle glinted; she used it to push the hair back from her eye.
Boyd laughed. “So what are you going to do with that? You gonna cause a scene here, in front of all these fine people?” He took a long drag. “You gonna kill yourself?”
Inside the ballroom, the music paused. The MC told a joke.
“I’m not,” Darla said coolly, shoving the muzzle under his chin, “the one who’s going to die.” She pulled the trigger. From the ballroom, an uproar of laughter and applause drowned the derringer's single muted boom.
Darla shoved him over the balustrade before he could crumple to the floor. Boyd landed in a thorny hedge of bougainvillea.
Darla re-entered the ballroom, skirting the dance floor on her way to the exit. A man’s hand landed on her shoulder. She stopped as a baritone voice behind her asked, “Leaving so soon?”
She turned to face a youngish man with slicked-back black hair and a leading-man mustache. Very Clark Gable, she mused.
“Pardon my intrusion,” he grinned shyly, “but it seems you’re alone, and well, they’re about to play the last song of the evening. I was hoping you’d—”
“I’d be delighted,” Darla said, answering his unfinished proposal.
“Call me Clark,” the man said as he took Darla’s hand and swirled her onto the dance floor.
She cocked an eyebrow. “And I’m Veronica.”
The band slid into their rendition of Arty Shaw’s sultry “Nightmare.”
“What an odd choice for a final song,” Clark murmured into her hair.
“Yet when the song is over,” Darla replied huskily, “so’s the nightmare.”
Clark leaned back and locked eyes with her. Darla smiled for the first time that evening. Cocooned in the heart-beat bliss of their burgeoning attraction, neither could hear the shouts and screams rising from the outside. Even if they had wanted to.
About the author:
With a Masters in English Lit, Hillary Lyon founded and for 20 years acted as senior editor for the independent poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. When not writing, she is the assistant art director for Black Petals. She resides and thrives in the harsh but beautiful Sonoran desert of Tucson, Arizona.
Free flash fiction on the first and third weeks of the month.