Previously published in Bluefire's Anthology
Summer’s colors, all too often, threatened to blind Ada. For the past few years, it had been a gentle gray, the neon billboards of Times Square and clashing outfits of the crowds absent. But this year, the white flag beckoned the bright colors back. The people flooded into bars and clubs, belching out beer-stained laughter that clogged the air like smoke.
If not for the woman sitting across from her, Ada never would’ve come. She loved the music at the Yardbird’s Club, but the new voices at the bar drowned out the saxophonist’s soulful melodies and pianist’s virtuosic runs.
Vera shook her head. “You’re hopeless, Ada.” Her hair fell in perfect brown ringlets down her shoulders. She had told Ada it was natural, but Ada was doubtful; beauty like that had to be fostered.
Ada ran her fingers along the wood table’s jagged grooves. “I thought there would be fewer people.”
“In a public place?”
Ada didn’t respond. She knew it was foolish, but the Yardbird’s Club had been empty not so long ago. It had been the perfect place for her and Vera: a public venue, so no one could claim indecency, but private enough for some connection.
Ada tensed. Already, Roger was there, his obnoxious yellow vest and overcoat crying for attention. He propped a foot up on her booth seat. “Got a question for you.”
“Of course you do,” Vera said, not looking up.
Roger tossed forward a wadded-up newspaper and jabbed at the page. “Recognize anything?”
Ada leaned forward, expecting a ridiculous political cartoon. Roger, convinced that she was clueless, liked to challenge her knowledge of the world’s affairs.
In the photo, a trimmed dark uniform of a sailor and a white dress had collided, lips crashed together. The woman's arms were at her sides, helpless, and the man's gripped onto her, a predator claiming the kill of his prey.
“You,” Vera said, eyeing Roger, “looking at photos of victory celebrations? You didn't even fight.”
Roger shrugged. “Neither did you.”
“Neither can I. I don't swing the right way.” Roger smirked. “But it’s a funny thing. Everyone wants to know who these two were. I told them to look at the only one in the room wearing white. So, nurse?”
“Not a nurse.” Ada had told Roger before, but he insisted that if you wore white, you were either a doctor—for trousers—or a nurse—for skirts. “And I don’t remember that.” She didn't remember much of that day, truthfully, even though it had been only a week ago.
Vera said, “Why do you care, Roger?”
He shrugged. “Curiosity, that’s all. Imagine looking at this picture and knowing that woman.”
“If I knew her,” Vera said coolly, “I would increase my prayers for her tenfold.”
Roger laughed. “It’s something to celebrate, you know. Being brave enough to do that to a stranger.”
Celebration. That was what they called it. Ada had strolled Times Square with Vera that day a single building had lit up, screaming out Japan’s surrender in bold.
At first, the whispers swirled around the street like ghosts, barely tangible, hesitant to join their old world. And then they succumbed, crossing the border between the dead and living. Memories flashed into being. Whispers solidified into cheers. Smiles broke through the gray clouds, and Ada turned to Vera.
Tears dripped down her cheeks—slow at first, then a flood.
“So that's it,” she had whispered. “They don't have use for us anymore, do they? Now that all the men will return.”
She had walked forward, every joint stiff as if she had stepped out of her grave. Teardrops trailed behind her.
“Vera?” Ada ran to her, clutching the other woman's hands. She shivered at Vera's shallow breaths.
“I liked it,” she said, her voice low. “Not the war, of course. But the absence, the quiet. The chances I received all because no one else was available. Working with something other than fabric and food.”
“I know.” Ada bent her head. “You might still be able to.”
Vera’s harsh laugh ripped through the air. “I wish. No. I expect I'll have to marry soon enough.” She paused. “A man, of course. And I'll have to serve him first, no matter what I might want.”
Ada took a deep breath and wrapped her arms around Vera, drawing her closer. Perhaps too close, more than what would normally be allowed, yet she felt it would never be enough.
“Today,” she said, “is our victory. For one day, let it be.”
“One day?” There was a hopeful cadence in Vera’s words.
“One day.” Ada tried not to think about what would happen afterward. Soon, this closeness—this courage—would not be so normal. New York City would advance alone, never looking back to who had steadied it when it was crippled. Like her Pacific neighbors, Ada too was renouncing her freedom. She wondered if her surrender would be written in the history books alongside theirs.
Later, Ada had wandered the streets, head down. Anything could've happened then, though she remembered nothing. Judging by the picture, she didn’t want to. Of course a man would celebrate halting Japan’s imperial invasions with grabbing a woman, stealing her land, and planting on her a flag. And of course it would make it onto a paper with no one knowing any better.
“You really don’t remember?” Roger chuckled, and Ada was back in the bar again with its low lights and drafty air. “I would've. Or you're just keeping him from me?”
Ada looked to Vera, the other woman's brown eyes bearing into her.
She knew that whether this picture had been of her or not, she didn't want to have it. Perhaps it was of a victory, but not Ada’s. Her victory would not be immortalized in picture frames and bronze sculptures, so it fell to her to crystallize the image, lest man’s conquest taint it. Ada wanted to win something that would endure.
She shook her head. “I don't remember.”
Trini Feng is a high school sophomore. Born and raised in the quiet suburbs of Illinois, she likes to explore stories both mundane and fantastical. Her work has previously been published in The WEIGHT Journal, BLANK Magazine, and Hypernova Lit. In her free time, she dabbles in music, video games, and obscure deep dives on the Internet.