He was married for the second time, and she was eighteen.
Frank Adalberto could often be found at 1.20pm sitting at his usual table at Chateau D’Monde, Mayfair. For a few months, between November and March, he would disappear off to Hollywood to make love and movies.
Jennifer Holland was a waitress at the aforementioned restaurant, lean figured with a mass of red hair, scraped up in a barrage of pins. Frank had seen her a couple of times before but it was not until July 1954 that he slipped his number into his bill, winking at her. She had called from a payphone to his club, and he had asked her for a drink with a slickness that suggested she was tonight’s girl.
Of course, she said yes. She stood in front of her rented mirror, holding up dresses to her cheap nylon slip. This was it, this was how she got out of here. Painted red lips, thick white powder and a clinging peach three shilling dress. Yes. Joan Crawford, or someone, stared back at her. Tonight mattered. Or did he want something different? Innocence? No, he’d seen that at the dinner table. She needed to show that she was willing to get where she needed with what he wanted.
He was charming, rude to the waiter and flashy with the chequebook. He name dropped between sucked tobacco smoke, and groped her knee in a way she would have shrieked at from anyone else. Eighteen, perhaps foolish, perhaps foolhardy, she persevered.
He called her kid, she called him Frank. He made love to her, if you could call it that, and she stared at the ceiling. Someday, she would have silk wallpaper too. And drapes. Velvet. And a record player just like his. And she’d never have to feel his vodka drenched lips against her neck again. Someday.
He would go weeks without calling, but she persevered.
Lower necklines and more flattery. Hey Kid, he’d say over his cigar. Dinner at eight. Wear something hot. And she would. She knew there were other women. They didn’t matter. She would get to Hollywood, someday. He’d promise her directors, film tests, whatever it took to get her flat on her back over his chaise longue. She was different to the other girls, quiet, serious. He was tired of shrieking Manhattan blondes.
But, as with all his new toys, Frank eventually got bored. It was late April when he stopped calling at her lodgings. The shadow of his silver jaguar didn’t haunt the street on Friday nights anymore. He never bothered to give an explanation. In fact, it was impressive how soon he forgot the name Jennifer Holland.
Jennifer realised her dreams were blown to the gutter at the sound of a replaced reciever. What had she done? Had she put on weight? She sobbed in front of the mirror for hours. Not over Frank, not over him, over everything she had dreamt of.
She starved herself, going days without food, for that slim look she knew he hired. Unfortunately, it made her look haggard, pale, older than her years. She dyed her hair, bleach blonde. She looked like a moth burning into white light, losing any of her free beauty into an ugly paleness. With her mouth redder than ever, she obsessed over her lips going as far as to have them fixed by a crook in Soho. It was a terrible mistake. She looked gaunt, overly done up and now disfigured. The swelling on her upper lips resembled some awful bee sting.
She read in The Mirror that Mr Adalberto and Mae Morely, the famous film star, were going to a premiere in Leicester Square the following Tuesday. She pawned all her furniture for a low-cut, green velvet dress from Harrods, and stood anxiously by the barriers. He didn’t notice her going in, but she waited, desperately. He only needed to see her now. He exited after an hour, Mae glittering on his arm. As he got into his car, and Jennifer cried out after him.
He saw her, and was for once silent. She looked pathetic, ridiculous and faded. Shaking his head, he turned back to Mae, closing the door.
“See that blonde, doll?” He said, pointing back as the vehicle sped away. “She was beautiful, once.”
* * *