Here's Dare We Dream #4! The fourth chapter in my serialized short story, running Tuesdays and Thursdays in the Kansas Newspapers for Education. Enjoy!
The Kansas City Union Station was enormous, elegant, and – as usual – filled with people. The building had been completed only one year earlier, and it still seemed to sparkle with a sort of freshness as Frankie and Susan joined the crowd streaming beneath its arched ceilings and glimmering chandeliers. The six-foot diameter face of the Grand Hall clock read twelve thirty-five, so they hurried out the front entrance and caught a trolley to downtown KC. They weren’t exactly sure what times the movie was showing that day, and they needed to see the earliest show in order to make it back to Lawrence before their mother that night.
The downtown movie palace, where they had often come with their parents and uncle, was also a new, lavish building that soared up into to the sky. The schedule on the ticket window listed the first showing of The Birth of a Nation at two, so since they were both hungry and had nearly an hour to kill, they hurried across the street to get some lunch at the Automat, dodging pedestrians, horses, and even a few Model Ts on their way.
Frankie loved the Automat. The restaurant chain wasn’t exactly a restaurant; instead of ordering from a waiter, people put coins into food-dispensing machines that lined the building’s walls and offered everything from Salisbury steak to creamed spinach to cherry pie. Once she and Susan stepped inside, they walked through the rows of tables and chairs to a booth where the cashier, or “nickel-thrower,” was sitting. Susan exchanged two dimes for four nickels, handed two to Frankie, and they headed toward the machines. Frankie selected a compartment with a hot, ham sandwich inside, dropped one nickel into the slot, turned the knob, lifted the hinged, glass window, and pulled out the plate. She spent her other nickel on a glass of chocolate milk, and then she joined Susan, who had selected scrambled eggs and coffee, and the two of them sat down across from each other at one of the tables.
“I feel too jittery to drink coffee right now,” Frankie said after a bite of her sandwich, which was cheesy and delicious. “I’m so excited I’m practically shaking.”
Susan swallowed a forkful of eggs. “You shouldn’t drink it at your age anyway. It will stunt your growth.”
Frankie rolled her eyes. “Of course. And removing the hair from strange parts of my body will make me a ‘modern woman.’”
“You only think it’s strange because you live in a small town and don’t know what they do in big cities.”
“You live in the same town I do. And we’re in a big city now, but do you see any women wearing sleeveless dresses? I don’t think so.”
Susan glanced around. “Well,” she admitted. “It’s not like the Automat is the height of fashion. Women in New York do. Women in Hollywood certainly do. I bet Lillian Gish wears them all the time, and shaves her underarms.”
“Well, we won’t be able to tell in the movie,” Frankie said, as the fair-haired, doe-eyed actress was the star of The Birth of a Nation. “It’s set during the Civil War, and women covered up even more fifty years ago than they do now.”
Susan took a sip of her coffee. Then, still looking down at her cup, she asked, “Do you think it’s as bad as they say? The part about the movie being prejudiced against Negroes?”
Frankie froze mid-chew. She and Susan had been planning this secret adventure for months, but in all that time they’d only discussed how much they wanted to see the film, not why it was banned in the first place. After a moment, she swallowed and spoke.
“We can’t know unless we see it for ourselves.”
Susan nodded, her gaze still fixed on her coffee. “I think you’re right.”
Frankie’s eyes widened. “What?”
“Oh, shut up,” Susan said, but her lips curled into a smile.
“Did you just say I was right?”
“I will throw these eggs at you.”
Frankie laughed. “I guess this really is a day of firsts.”
“Speaking of which, hurry and finish your sandwich,” Susan said. “If there is a crowd at the movie palace, I want us to be first in line.”