All she could see was her sister’s final moments. The steady beat of her heart, like a drum being banged over and over until it burst open.
Ida woke with a start, her heart banging, her ears ringing and her body slick with sweat. She could barely breathe and she could see black dots in her vision. “It was only a dream, it was only a dream,” she whispered over and over like a mantra or chant. “Viola is okay… She’s okay…” She thought back to the day her sister left to be a flapper girl, the look of absolute disgrace on her Mama’s face. She looked over to her Mama on the bed next to her; it was painfully obvious how much she missed Viola. Ida could barely see the outline of her Mama’s ballooning stomach, it was so hard to believe there was a baby in there, and Viola doesn’t even know yet.
Ida woke that morning just as tired as she had been when she went to sleep. She had almost missed the wagonette! She had just started an apprenticeship at Madam Marilyn’s Millinery and was a tiny bit frightened! As she got off the wagonette she paid the driver a nickel for the ride.
“Be careful ‘round ‘ere Miss, bad area,” he said in a thick southern accent.
“Thank you Sir,” she said curtly as she left.
She approached the Mill and threw its doors wide open, overloading her senses with colours and scents: the vibrant reds, almost like dripping blood as they hung around the room. The silk and lace with their strange, dusty smell. Out the corner of Ida’s eye she saw a looming figure she knew all too well. She dropped a low curtsy. Marilyn was the epitome of grace; she had a striking likeness to a ballerina.
“Ida! Take the greens out of the dying tub! And tell your mother to get about a pound more of cotton by tomorrow!” Marilyn spoke in a haughty French accent.
“I am afraid that won’t be possible Madam…” Ida spoke quietly.
“I am buying your mother’s cotton as a favour to you! I will not hesitate to secede that offer!” Marilyn walked into the finance room where her husband dealt with sales. Ida sighed as she went to work at the dying tub
Ida came home that night exhausted.
“Ida! Start the dinner!” Winifred called from the bedroom.
“Yes Mama!” she called back and began to cook. She noticed a small envelope on the countertop addressed to her, and she opened it and began to read.
It had been from her sister, Viola. Ida had tears streaming down her face by the end, cascading into a waterfall. She traced the signature. ‘Viola’. Even the word sounded strange and unfamiliar to her.
“Ida Darlin’? You have visitors.” Winifred said softly coming into the room. Ida didn’t need to be told twice and darted out the room.
“Charlotte! Emily!” Ida shouted and crushed her friends into a bone-breaking embrace. They were her two best friends. Charlotte was gorgeous with her long chocolate hair and porcelain skin; she was the spitting image of a doll with her judgmental, gray eyes. Emily had caramel coloured skin and long black hair, with big doe eyes. She stood at 6’’2ft tall! Ida was always jealous that everyone else seemed to be prettier than her!
“Oh My Goodness! You look so beautiful!” Emily squealed.
“Yeah… But you look tired…” Charlotte added. She couldn’t go five minutes without her passive-aggressiveness!
And so the girls set about their night on the town, peering into voodoo shops and speakeasies, but that’s when Ida spotted it… Magnificent and beautiful sitting idle in the shop window, Ida froze to stare at it.
“Aw… I think Ida has a crush on the saxophone!” Charlotte giggled.
“It’s shiny…?” Emily said, uncertain.
“If only you could play… Or afford it!” Charlotte said it sweetly but couldn’t conceal the spite spilling from her eyes like poison.
Ida looked at the price and continued walking.
“Ida! Stop dabbling at the dyer and help Lottie with the pins!’’ Marilyn flung her arms in an angry gesture as Ida sulked over to help Charlotte. She was prancing around like a vain little thing. She was, trying (and failing) to pin and stitch a little piece of lace; she brushed her to the side and did in two seconds what Charlotte couldn’t manage in twenty minutes.
“Umm Lottie, Sweetheart? Could you leave me and Ida?”
Marilyn spoke up from the other side of the room as she had just that second come off of a call with her husband. Charlotte slowly left trying to eavesdrop but as doting on her daughter as Marilyn was, she was no fool; she patiently waited for her to leave.
“Look… Ida, dear, I’m really sorry, that was my husband on the phone there. Look, Hon, we can’t afford you anymore… We’re not doing so well… Ida? Ida!”
Ida ran out of the Millinery crying her eyes out. Viola hadn’t sent money since October and it was just coming into December, she dreaded seeing her Mama.
“Darlin’? What took you so long? I swear I will have words with that -“
“- man, he will be thoroughly told -“
“- off! He will feel the wrath of -“
“I’ve lost my job!” Ida blurted it out without thinking twice. She had a whole speech that she never got to use.
Winifred started shouting abuse at her, screaming hurtful things that cut like knives.
Ida ran out of the house thinking the whole world was against her as she left sobbing.
She came home late that night and slipped in through the door, she heard a strange noise from behind her but when she turned around she saw nothing. She brushed it off and crept into the bedroom.
She woke early the next day and the first thing she saw as she entered the main room was a bright red case, the second thing was her Mama’s gaze piercing into the side of her head like a dagger.
She ignored it and opened the brass clasp.
“Oh!” she gasped in delight as she saw the glimmering saxophone before her with a small note around the handle saying, ‘Emily’.
As she poured over the instrument, her Mama got up carrying her teacup with her as she heard a chap on the window. It opened to reveal a policeman. “Are you the biological mother of Viola Mae Syveran?”
“I hate to tell you ma’am but… Viola was found dead last night… I’m sorry. Ma’am? Ma’am!”
The teacup smashed.