Showtime: Hammersmith (thirty-three)
McKeefe’s was a rough house.
Minnie had played to bad crowds, almost always, before Cal Bruce first signed her on, as opening act. The worst spot on the slate. Because she was pretty…
Well, a girl like Ruby, brought up religious, not even in a town…out in the fields someplace, if Minnie got her…might be coy, if coy was the word. Superstitious, maybe…afraid of God. Minnie figured, if you had a face, you had to know it.
Besides, her mother, Margaret Leybourne, or Major Leybourne, as the wags had it, always said: “You can get places if you got a face and no voice. You can get places if you got a voice and no face. If you got no face and no voice, you better learn to juggle.”
Or take dictation, Minnie supposed. There was a world outside of showbiz, but why be a pessimist? She was pretty, and savvy, and she knew how a sentimental number could quiet down a bunch of hecklers.
(Starting out, she couldn’t afford hecklers of her own.
“I wanna see some hoofin’!”
“Where’s the comedian?”
“SHUT UP! Let the kid sing!” Her mother.)
Le Fontainebleau sat next to her on the piano bench. The perch was conspicuous, being the stage was only a platform, uncurtained, and the patron on the bar’s last stool could have reached out to shake le Fontainebleau’s hand. As impresaria, Minnie was admitting no premature starts. Carey and Ruby she’d stationed behind the piano, where they could take their deep breaths, in the nearest thing to a dressing room this saloon was going to provide.
“Is there a business office?” she’d asked the bartender.
He’d flushed, puzzling her, and mumbled, “Well, now, down the hill, along the creek. Where most folks go.”
Le Fontainebleau winked at her, and drew from inside his coat a pie tin. He’d promised to tell a few jokes. He stood, moved front and center, and started banging the tin against his forehead. The noise came somewhat muffled; the crowd, mostly workers from the factory, who, McKeefe had informed her, hated variety, glared at the intrusion…but after a minute or so, became interested.
Schwachsinn! The chant seemed to ripple among them.
Minnie admonished herself for an unprofessional lapse into goggling, and began banging out “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”.
(2018, Stephanie Foster)