Short Story – A Party, 1945, Washington, DC by Elsa Wolf ©

Sadie couldn’t quite decide who to invite to her party, but she wanted to fill her small Georgetown home to the brim. She wrote twenty names on a piece of paper and planned to ask each of them to bring a friend. After the hardships everyone had experienced, she wanted to do something festive. Perhaps some match-making to lighten up the mood. She picked up the telephone and called all her guests rather than sending them the usual formal written invitations.

They came to the door in groups of two or four at a time, climbing gingerly up the outer stairs as they talked among themselves. World War II had put deep wounds in their souls, whether they had been at home or overseas. The connection between them was there, even if they had just met.

The house was crowded, and the guests bumped into each other with their cigarettes perched in one hand and an alcoholic drink in the other. Some of the men wore tailored suits with ties, and others wore their military uniforms with medals and rank precisely placed. The women all in dresses, not a one in trousers, with their hair in large cascading curls, pulled back in various degrees with bobby pins and make-up concealing their true complexion.

It wasn’t long after the party started that Sadie decided to introduce her friend, Gwen, to one of the many interesting men. This one in particular seemed like a suitable gentleman. His black-rimmed glasses made him appear as intelligent as she knew he was from her professional encounters with him. His photographic memory and high IQ allowed him to pick up languages quickly, but his forte was French.

“Gwen—” Sadie took her arm and guided her through the crowd. “Come with me, I want to introduce you to someone.”

“Mr. Nathan Schwartz, I’d like to introduce you to Miss Gwen Rhinehart. He was in the Army during the war. Now, he’s with the State Department. Maybe you’ve seen each other at some USO shows? Gwen organized the events and announced the entertainers before they performed.  She worked in the Washington metropolitan area.”

“Very nice to meet you, Miss Rhinehart, but I don’t think I have attended any of your events. I was primarily assigned to North Africa during the war. I certainly would remember such a beautiful lady.”

Gwen smiled, which accentuated her red lipstick, blue eyes, and flaxen blond hair. Sadie knew that the attention he gave her would feed Gwen’s delicate ego and left them to get acquainted without further influence from her.

***

Gwen and Nathan stood side by side laughing about the large number of people packed together in Sadie’s house. They spoke about where they lived and why. Gwen continued to work for the USO, but she wanted to get back to New York to resume her classical acting career. Nathan, a lawyer in a private firm before the war, was captivated by his new legal advisor position with the government.  Once their initial conversation lagged, they walked together among the guests and struck up other conversations observing each other as they ‘worked’ the crowd for a while before Gwen excused herself to find Sadie.

“He’s so handsome with his tanned skin and slicked-back hair. And so strong and charming without an ounce of arrogance about his accomplishments. I feel like a giddy school girl, I’m swooning. He knows so much about so many different topics.”

“Good thing, he should always be interesting. Go back and see what happens.”

Gwen walked back over to Nathan. She said, “I’m feeling a little too warm and confined with all these people. Would you mind walking me home? I only live a few blocks away.”

“Of course, I’d be delighted.”

They arrived in front of her building. “Thank you for the company, I get nervous walking home in the dark. I enjoyed the evening very much.” Gwen outstretched her hand, and he kissed the back with such a light touch that it felt like a breeze.

“A marvelous evening. I’m glad to have met you, Miss Rhinehart. Would you like to meet for coffee next Saturday?”

“Yes, we can meet at the Reeves shop at noon. I like to sleep late whenever I can.”  Gwen thanked him and hurried to her apartment building. Before going inside, she said, “Please, call me Gwen—all my friends do. Goodnight.”

Nathan waved ever slightly and tipped his fedora hat in her direction.

***

Nathan put his hands in his pockets and sauntered down the sidewalk with as his shadow following behind him. While thinking about his past, he wondered if anything would become of this new connection. She was gorgeous and so petite with what must be an 18-inch waist. This calculation was certainly very close to accurate as he was rarely mistaken when it came to mathematics.

***

Their coffee date was brief the next Saturday, but gratifying. Nathan invited Gwen to see a live theater production of Joan of Arch featuring Ingrid Bergman for their next rendezvous. Nathan felt that attending the theater together would be perfect. He picked her up in a borrowed shiny Cadillac Coupe de Ville and headed to the performance. He could tell by her admonishment that she was delighted and hoped to attend many more events with her on his arm.

After the show, they headed out for a late dinner. They sat at just the right table, away from the busy waiters and noisy clientele. Tucked away in the corner, they spoke of the war… how Gwen had come to Washington soon after it started and tried to join the Army typing pool, but her fingers weren’t fast enough. Instead, she hired on at a local bookstore. A few months later, her roommate had to leave her position at the USO and suggested Gwen for the management position. She explained how she loved helping the soldiers divert their minds from their troubles. Most that she dealt with had sustained some kind of injury during the war and were recuperating in the Washington area. Nathan listened intently. When she was done with her meal, she dipped her napkin in her water glass, wiped the corners of her mouth and fingertips before putting her kid-gloves back on.

The year that followed was filled with many hours together with friends. Often Nathan would go away on business trips, but he always wrote Gwen letters to keep her informed. The relationship moved more slowly than with other couples after the war. They both had scars in their history from not only the war but from their previous marriages.  Talking about their past relationships didn’t appeal to Nathan, so he made a concerted effort to avoid such discussions and focused on non-emotional and intellectual conversations. It wasn’t easy for either of them being from broken marriages, especially not in the 1940s.

Other than Nathan’s travels and work commitments, they were inseparable and finally became engaged. When they discussed dates for the nuptial, he delayed making a decision, which became a sore spot between them.

“How are we going to have children if we don’t get married soon? Everyone we know has already had babies—we aren’t getting any younger.”

He wasn’t quite sure how to answer her plea. Gwen was in her late thirty’s. He was a few months shy of forty.  He couldn’t agree on a date or feel more settled until he completed the psychiatric treatment he was secretly undergoing. Not only the war but his past marriage created a wall between him and their future. She agreed to wait but had a rather low opinion of such medical professionals. She had had her own experiences with such ‘doctors’ and found their Freudian ideas useless.  The visits she did have with them only aggravated her anxieties and made her feel more vulnerable.

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