Thirteen Hundred Miles in a Flivver
It was the second greatest journey of her life. The top of the list had to be awarded to that first, admittedly uneventful, trip by old fashioned horse and cart, then railroad from Nowhereville on the banks of the good old Ohio River to New York and the Great White Way. That had been, what, 1896? Things had been great at first, everything went like a dream, the job turned out to be legit, the show she was dancing in, in her little drummer-boy outfit and tights, was a success, the money wasn't much but more than enough to live on, rent, food.
Then she hurt her ankle. She slipped a notch. She couldn't dance so she did the opposite: stood stock still in Tableaux Vivant, still life recreations of famous scenes from history and myth: what little there was of her costume was more or less transparent, but because she didn't move, it was legal. When that show wrapped up, work was short, and it was another step down to a full striptease.Then there was a police raid and, worse, she fell out with the manager - fell out as in slugged him one.
That was nearly the end. No place to live, no food, nothing to drink, she was at rock bottom, slumped in a basement stairwell trying to keep warm in the harsh New York Winter of late '99. That was the first time she ever heard Hetty's voice. "Hey, you, Little [------] Matchstick Girl! Trying t' steal my patch?!" How she'd walked her two blocks and up three flights of stairs, she never knew, but she had. She'd asked her about it years later. "Y' weren't so big an' fat then!" was the typical, but uninformative reply.
The homely looking working girl Hetty had warmed her up first, then given her a little reviving brandy. Then some kind of hot beefy drink, Jesus that had tasted so salty and hot and good, then food, then sleep. Later, she gave her more: a trade which much though much despised by the society that made use of it, was the oldest in the world. She gave her something else, too: the knowledge that a woman could honestly, chastely, and unreservedly give her love to another woman.
Maude hadn't become a nurse during the Great War, or sold war bonds or done charitable work for injured servicemen or anything noble like that. But she provided comfort for sailors and soldiers, many of whom would feel their first and last taste of a woman's embrace in her arms. And if they couldn't afford the beautiful Maude on a private or seaman's pay, then there was always Hetty.
1918 drew to a close. New York was over. Maude was all out of sorts for all sorts of reasons and Hetty's rheumatism was starting to make each Winter an ordeal. They were War Profiteers, of a sort, and by selling up what they had and pulling out their savings, they bought a flivver and decided to drive the Thirteen Hundred miles to Miami: open a little boarding house, and live a blameless, completely legal life. They ended up opening a house all right: maybe not quite the type they had planned, maybe not as legal as they'd planned, but as blameless as they could make it.