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By Alana Church
Artwork by Moira Nelligar
Copyright 2017 Alana Church
~~ All characters in this book are over 18. ~~
San Francisco, May 1967
The tramping of her roommates in their tiny, cramped apartment woke Jacqueline Mathis. Blinking, she raised her head, looking out her bedroom window. Bright sunlight lit the wall of the neighboring building, only a few yards away.
Morning again already?
She slumped back on her lumpy mattress. How much longer can I do this? She had been at her job at the advertising firm until nearly midnight, forced to run errands, fetch coffee, and smile for a pack of braying jackasses who wouldn’t know good ad copy if it jumped out of a tree and bit them on the ass.
Groaning, she staggered out of bed and into the closet their landlord laughingly referred to as a bathroom. After she peed and washed her face, she stumbled into the kitchen, where Maria and Rosa were cheerfully chatting over their breakfast.
“Good morning,” Maria chirped. A small, birdlike woman a few years older than herself, she worked as a teller at a bank.
Jacqueline grunted, hunting in the cupboard for some cereal.
“Isn’t she cheerful?” Rosa, Maria’s sister, remarked, her dark-skinned face smiling. “I swear, the president should just send her around to all those anti-war protests. One look at her face and they’d decide to go somewhere else.”
“Ha. Ha.” She sat in the lone empty chair, pouring cereal into a bowl and adding milk. Her eyes closed, she began to shovel cereal into her mouth, chewing and swallowing mechanically.
“Tough night, chica?” Rosa asked sympathetically. About her own age, she worked at a grocery store nearby.
“Long night,” she said. “I had to close the place down. Those idiots were still swilling coffee and trying to decide what women really want in a car until after eleven o’clock. I didn’t get back until after midnight.”
“Yes, I heard you when you came in.” The older woman shook her head. “I admire what you’re trying to do, mi amiga, but is it worth it? All those years at school, all this work. I’ve heard the stories you tell when you come home. No matter how hard you try, you’re always going to be just another woman to the bosses. What’s worse, an educated woman. Do you really think a big company like yours is going to promote a woman?”
Her fingers clenched on the spoon. “Yes. They will. I won’t give them a choice. If I am better than the men, they’ll have to choose me.”
“Oh, girl.” The sisters exchanged glances. “Do you have a lot to learn. You should be thinking about catching a husband instead. You’re not growing any younger, you know.”
They’re wrong, she told herself, emerging from the shower. She dressed with casual efficiency, putting on the pantyhose, black skirt, white blouse, and dark jacket with quick, sure motions. In the tiny bathroom, she applied a tasteful amount of makeup, only applying a little lipstick to make her pale lips a little darker. Surveying the results with approval, she stepped into her high-heeled shoes and out into the bright sunshine of a brilliant California morning.
She took a deep breath, the breeze off the bay fresh and clean, and walked to the nearest trolley stop, only a few blocks away. The rental prices in the city were outrageous, and growing worse every year, but the convenience of cheap local transportation so close to downtown almost made up for it.
To tell the truth, Jacqueline had been fortunate when Rosa and Maria’s previous roommate had walked out on them, deciding to move in with her boyfriend. The two girls, who Jackie knew through her mother’s extensive network of friends, relatives, and members in her church, had come up to her after mass one Sunday morning and had offered her the room. She, for her part, had been desperate to move out of her parents’ house, which had grown increasingly uncomfortable, her brothers and sister taking opposing sides about the war in Vietnam. Their family seemed to be a microcosm of the country as a whole. Every week, it seemed, brought more awful news from half a world away, or showed images of thousands of protesters in Washington.
Jackie didn’t care about any of that. After watching her own mother work herself into an early grave, raising five children on what her husband brought as a longshoreman on the docks, she had sworn she would not live that kind of life. After she graduated from high school, she had enrolled in the University of San Francisco, majoring in business.
Her father had been stunned into silence. He was all for education in his children. Frank Mathis had left high school at seventeen to enlist in the army, and had always regretted the fact he had never gone back to school after he returned from France. But when he encouraged his oldest child, conceived only days after his marriage, to go to college, he had imagined she would follow a traditional path, becoming a teacher or a nurse. When Jackie told him she planned on being an executive, he could only shake his head in wonder.
The streetcar rode down the rails, the steep hills of San Francisco guiding them towards the financial district. Skyscrapers rose up on either side, cutting off the sky. As the trolley slowed and stopped, she rose and stepped towards the exit. She checked her watch. Twenty minutes to nine. Plenty of time.
As she hopped off the trolley and onto the curb, a series of cheerful, high-pitched notes caught her ear. She turned. On the corner, well enough away from the curb to not interfere with the morning commuters, a young man stood, a fiddle raised to his chin. As she watched, his bow dipped through a complicated series of strokes, pulling notes from the fiddle-strings so quickly her toes tapped in appreciation.
He was dressed in clean but faded jeans, scuffed work boots on his feet and wore a checked shirt over a plain white cotton t-shirt. His fiddle-case was open at his feet, and she was unsurprised to see a scattering of silver in the bottom, as well as a few crumpled bills.
He finished his tune with a flourish, and faint, polite applause rose from several men and women who had paused to listen to him play. She stepped forward, digging in her purse, and deposited a couple of shiny quarters into the case at his feet.