Martha Matthews and the Matinee Idol

By Barbara Irvin

car pulled off to side of road

A sea of stars sparkled against the velvety black sky, lighting up the city of Macon for miles around. Seventeen-year-old Martha Matthews decided that she had never seen a night so clear or pristine. She breathed in the invigorating, warm air, enjoying the fragrance of cherry blossoms that came from nearby trees.

Martha raised her hands to her head and untied the pink ribbon that had been in her hair all day. She wrapped it around her right wrist, making the piece of satin look like a bracelet.

“I’m pretending this is a gift from you,” she said to Rex Windsor, her beau of two months.

“You won’t have to dream much longer. In a few weeks, I will have enough lettuce saved up to buy you a bracelet as pink as that bow,” he replied, running his fingers through her flowing, brown curls.

Martha rested her head on his shoulder. “I hope it’s like the one I saw at the drugstore.”

Rex put his arm around her. “It will be. I hid one behind the counter just for you.”

“How many banana splits and malts do you have to make to pay for it?”

“Enough. You are worth every one, though.”

“How has the job been going?”

“Not bad, except for today.”

“What happened?”

“A customer ordered a peanut butter sandwich, and I gave him tuna by mistake.”

“Was he upset?” asked Martha.

“No. I explained that I was still learning. The guy was very understanding. I wish my boss had reacted with the same amount of compassion. He really busted my chops.”

“I’m sorry you got in trouble. You’ll do better next time.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Martha.”

They sat silently for a few minutes. Just being together was nice. While their friends preferred Lindy Hopping the evenings away, Rex and Martha were content to sit outside, usually on her front porch, and talk. Both of them treated these stolen moments alone as more precious than anyone or anything.

This excluded matinee idol Charles Chadwick, her favorite film star. Martha absolutely worshipped him. She saw all of his movies, often on multiple occasions, and never missed a radio appearance. Maryann and Maureen, Martha’s two best friends, adored Charles as well.
However, the degree of admiration they had didn’t fall into the category of fervent fandom. Still, the three girls started their own Charles Chadwick club. They met every Wednesday after school to discuss the latest news and share photos or stories featured in magazines.

Martha broke the silence. “It’s such a nice night. I hate to see it end.”

“So do I, but I have to get home. We both have school tomorrow. Besides, I know how your parents feel about us staying out too late.”

She sat up. “Isn’t that silly, especially when we’re right outside the house? I mean, they can see us from the window.”

“They are probably watching us right now. We are like the second feature at the movies,” said Rex.

“Speaking of movies, I hope you are still planning to take me to see the latest Charles Chadwick picture.”

“You know I am. It works out well because I have tomorrow night off. I will pick you up around seven.”

“I am the luckiest girl in the world,” Martha replied, nuzzling her face against his green collared shirt. She lifted her head and looked deep into his piercing sapphire eyes. Rex’s lips brushed Martha’s.

They stood. She straightened out the wrinkles in her knee-length blue skirt.

“Until tomorrow, then,” he said.

She laughed.

“What’s such a gas?” he asked.

“You sound like an announcer on the radio.”

“Maybe that’s what I will become after I graduate.”

“I’d tune in just to hear your voice.”

“That’s a swell thought to end the evening on. You’d better go in now.”

Martha went indoors, but not before Rex got into his father’s tan Packard and drove away.

Dreams cluttered her mind as she slept. One particular fantasy lingered in her subconscious hours after Martha awoke the following morning. It took place at a ballroom. With its glittering lights and elegant decor, the joint reminded Martha of the set of a splashy musical. She felt like a showgirl as Rex spun her around the glossy floor. Had there been a contest for the
best Jitterbugging couple, they would have won.

“I’ve never seen such jive bombers!” someone yelled over the orchestra.
That voice sounds so familiar, thought Martha.

She glanced across the crowded room and gasped. Charles Chadwick stared directly at them. With his sandy hair and stylish gray suit, he looked every bit as dashing as he did in any portrait or scene.

Suddenly, Charles squeezed through the mob of shrieking girls and envious boys. Martha’s knees grew weak. Her heart skipped a beat as he sauntered toward her, his confident stride easily visible.

“Forgive me for intruding, but my name is Charles Chadwick.”

“Oh, I would know you anywhere, Mr. Chadwick. I am a huge fan of yours.

My name is Martha Matthews, and this is Rex Windsor.”

He shook both of their hands and said, “It is a pleasure to meet each of you. Miss Matthews, I couldn’t help noticing the divine way you dance.”

“I’ve had a lot of practice.”

“So I see. Would you be terribly taken aback if I asked you to dance?”

“Certainly not, Mr. Chadwick. I’d be honored.”

Rex tried to protest, but neither of them listened. They merrily moved about as though he didn’t exist. Anger bubbled up inside Rex like lava erupting from a volcano. He vowed to get even with Charles for stealing Martha away from him. When the dance ended, he’d politely ask him to step outside. Once there, Rex would clobber him. Nobody openly flirted with his lady.

She never knew how the dream turned out because it faded far too quickly. As exciting as it had been, Martha wondered if her crush on Charles Chadwick secretly bothered Rex. He’d assured her at least once in their relationship that it had not, but now she wasn’t so sure.

Consumed with doubt, Martha put on a red and white frock she recently made in sewing class.

“You are as beautiful as a pinup model,” Rex told her on their way to the theater.

“Do you mean that?”

“Why would I say it if I didn’t?”

“I don’t know.”

He pulled over to the side of the road and stopped the car.

“We aren’t going anywhere until you tell me what is wrong.”

“Why should something be the matter?” Martha wanted to know.

“You haven’t said a word about the film we are seeing.”

“I don’t have to talk about movies twenty-four hours a day, Rex.”

“When you abruptly quit bringing up Charles Bhadwick, there is a problem.”

She averted her gaze.

You better speak up. If you don’t, we will arrive in the middle of the show or miss it entirely, Martha thought.

Mustering moxie, she finally faced him.

“Let’s say you and I attended a party, and this incredibly handsome gentleman walked up to me and asked me to dance. Wouldn’t you be annoyed?”

“Not at all,” he said.

“You wouldn’t?”

“No. I totally trust you. What is a harmless dance between strangers compared to the love we share?”

Tears streamed uncontrollably down Martha’s cheeks as she wiped them with the back of her hand.

“Here,” said Rex, handing her a tissue. She dabbed at her face, balled up the tissue, and then threw it on the floor.

“Thank you. Remind me to pick it up.”

“Don’t worry about it. My dad will never notice. He seldom checks for garbage.”

“I am embarrassed for allowing myself to get overly emotional. I wasn’t expecting to hear such a poignant declaration from you.”

“No need to apologize. There will be plenty of drama in the movie.”

“Comedy, too.”

“Now, that’s the Martha Matthews I know and love.”

“I will always be yours.”

He started the engine, and they sped off.

Category: Featured, Short Story