Jared showed feigned interest as his girlfriend Dianna’s father gave a thorough recitation about each of the smiling people in the various framed photos on the bookshelf. Dianna gave him an apologetic smile.
“…and this is all of us at my cousin Mason’s graduation from High School. He was the first of us through. That’s Mason with his arms around me and my sister Sophia, and that’s mama, daddy, grandpa Ralph, Aunt Louise and Uncle…”
“Dad, can we do this another time?” Dianna interrupted.
Jared raised his hand in a clumsy attempt at civility. “Is Sophia the one that disappeared?” he asked.
“Yes,” Dianna quickly replied, saving her father from having to answer the question. “Sorry, daddy. I told Jared about Auntie Sophia.”
The smile on Dianna father’s face changed to a melancholy grimace. He shook his head. “Well, then, did she tell you it was one of those times, every fifty years or so when the moon goes all red? But that happened in the morning, as the moon was setting, before she’d gone to work. Anyway, yes. Let’s save that story for another time.”
“All I want is to stop sifting through again and again the very little we have ever known about her disappearance,” said Dianna’s mother. “If she left, she left. Terrible of her to just take off like that, if that’s what actually happened. But it would be good to know one way or the other, because if she’s dead, I mean, if she was murdered or something awful like that, then all we want is to lay her to rest.”
Jared leaned over to Dianna and mouthed, “Sorry”.
“I’m going to show Jared the famous tire swing out back,” Dianna announced.
“No, no. Time to eat. Everyone come sit down and we’ll get dinner on the table,” Dianna’s grandmother said as she stood in the kitchen doorway motioning everyone through. “Let’s not scare off Dianna’s young man just yet with stories about my poor Sophia.”
Twenty years earlier
“Great stuff tonight, Sophia,” Philip called out as he passed the women’s open dressing room door.
“Thanks!” Sophia called back. She heard the backstage door open and Philip bidding a good night to Charlie the doorman.
It was a darn good night, Sophia thought. She wanted to thank Gus and Thaddeus, too, but she was pretty sure the guys were already out the door with whomever they’d set their sights on in the club.
Guessing who the fellas would end up with at the end of the night was a game Sophia liked to play. This night she guessed Gus was off with one of the four boys sitting in the back and Thaddeus with the woman in the tight-fitting blue dress at the table up front. Thaddeus always went for the ripe, low hanging fruit. Philip wasn’t part of the game. He was crazy in-love with his fiancé and out the door right after the last set.
“Nice night for it,” was Charlie the doorman’s standard salutation for anyone leaving the club. “Need a cab, Miss?”
“Yes. Thank you, Charlie,” Sophia said, keenly aware of Charlie’s gentlemanly ritual of seeing the women of the club safely off. When the quartet played their first gig at the club, Sophia insisted she would bus it home, but Charlie insisted he pay for a cab. From that point forward, Sophia agreed to let Charlie to call a cab, but refused to let him pay. Living clear across town, she paid with what usually amounted to most of her miniscule take of the evening’s door.
Sophia lived in a one-bedroom apartment she inherited, so to speak, when her grandfather died. She was the one who nursed him through his final days and decided to take over payment of the rent after his death. The apartment was in the sprawling projects along the river, near industrial district where most project tenants worked. As did she, though she considered her circumstance different.
Her day-job was as a senior secretary for the operations manager at Tigart Manufacturing. She started in the Tigart secretarial pool during summers in High School and a few years later, was assigned to the new operations manager, Richard Stanton. Stanton was shy, nervous, and very well-mannered. Her position was the envy of the other secretaries because almost every secretary was subjected to every form of disregard, from being entirely ignored to blatant insult and harassment.
But what filled Sophia’s world was music. It was her total joy. She needed nothing more. It took her far away from grind of her daily life and made the world a wonderful place to be.
Sophia took every chance she could to play or listen to music. She would surreptitiously eat her lunch at her desk so that she could spend her lunch hour at the upright piano in the employee commons. On Wednesdays after work, she headed straight home to eat a quick bite before walking the 5 blocks to the First Fellowship of Christ, the church her family attended when she was young, to practice playing on their Baby Grand Steinway, as well as practice her singing. She had the place to herself, which gave her space and time to work out a tricky bit of something new or rehearse songs for the quartet’s weekend gigs. When she was done, the night janitor, a middle-aged man she’d known all her life only as Mr. Johnson, would walk her home.
Tuesday and Thursday evenings were rehearsal for the Friday and Saturday night gigs with the quartet. Gus was the group’s leader. He did a great good job at maintaining their standing gigs at three small neighborhood clubs, and occasionally landing a private party, musical event or festival. Gus ponied up for a cab to collect Sophia, Philip, and Thaddeus, so they could rehearse in Gus’ make-shift sound studio that he also called home. They rehearsed long into the night polishing up their repertoire and hammering out new material. Gus was adamant Sophia jam with the guys with some scat singing, but if there was one thing she could not quite get the hang of, it was scat. Nevertheless, every week, he encouraged her to try. But when it came to the gigs, she would bow out during the instrumentals and just let the boys rip.
The third weekend of the month, unless Gus had scored a gig, was her time to catch up. Saturdays were spent doing chores and errands, and if time allowed, a little bit of window shopping. Every Sunday was a trip on the bus for dinner with her brother, his wife, their three children and her mother.
Mondays were the only evenings to do whatever she wanted. She joked that it was a good thing she only had Mondays open, otherwise she would end up broke on cover charges at clubs to hear groups play and on tickets to concerts. So, Mondays were typically a quiet night at home for Sophia, especially in winter when it was too cold for much of anything else than the occasional trip to the ice rink with her friend Barbara from work. Every so often she attended the Monday night single adults’ mixer at the church, at the urging of her brother who was desperate to see Sophia settled and out from under his charge. Other times she walked to the library to check out a couple albums of favorite musicians or discover new ones. In summer she like to take the long way home from work along the busy promenade along the river. She would treat herself to dinner with a hot dog and a Coca-Cola from the vendor on the docks. She enjoyed sitting on a bench watching the boats and people go by.
On the second Monday in July of 1963, two days after the fantastic night at the club with the guys, and three weeks after her 23rd birthday, the only thing anyone knew that Sophia planned for her evening was one of her quiet nights at home. The remnants of a tropical storm had turned the weather wet and windy. She told her friend Barbara that she was looking forward to staying home listening to the records she recently checked out from the library. The last time anyone saw Sophia was her saying good night to her boss Richard Stanton.\
Prompts used in “1984″ are: Bloodshot moon; I should go; chip away