The room was hot and stale despite the breeze that waved the lace curtains in auntie Mimi's parlor. Pauline sat rigidly in the lumpy old armchair opposite her aunt who was slumping into the sofa and into her starched high black lace collar, with the elderly persian cat purring away in her lap like one of those new electric can-openers. Pauline took a sip of the hot sweet tea then clinked the cup back into its saucer.
"Careful girl!" admonished her aunt, stirring from a light slumber by the sound.
"Sorry," said Pauline.
She sighed with boredom. Mimi fanned her face with limp fingers.
"Sure is a hot one," said Mimi. "It's a good thing it's a Sunday. Should I continue reading?" She patted the Bible resting open on the arm of the sofa and readjusted her eyeglasses, squinting at the print.
"Oh, auntie, you should rest your eyes awhile longer," said Pauline.
"Oh, you're so considerate. You'll make a good Christian wife and mother someday."
Then through the window they both heard a man whistling, then the latch on the front gate unfastening.
"Who could that be?" asked Mimi.
Pauline stood up and set her tea aside. She walked to the window and peeked out from behind the curtain. She smiled, and the young man on the walk winked back at her without breaking his tune. He hopped up the steps and,
Pauline hopped out of the parlor to the foyer and answered the door.
"If it's one of them salesmen, tell them I don't need any of what they're selling!" yelled Mimi. At the sound of her voice the cat dug its claws into the ample layers of her dress but there was no risk he would ever damage flesh, her nakedness was so insulated from any prying male eyes. "I go to Barton's department store for all my needs! We don't need any travelling riffraff in this neighborhood."
"It's not a salesman," said Pauline, leading the young man, dressed in a dapper striped suit into the parlor. He clutched a straw hat in his hands and bore an obsequious smile.
"Who's this then?" asked Mimi, leaning forward an inch, which made the cat protest. "Oh get down Bartholomew!" She pushed him off her lap to much mewling.
"This is Luke. You remember Luke, don't you?"
"Hello Miss Lewis," said Luke.
"Oh, you. You work at the bank, don't you. You're dressed rather boldly for a Sunday," said Mimi.
"Auntie! You're embarrassing me," whispered Pauline.
Mimi glared at her.
"Sundays are just such wonderful days I always think," said Luke. "I just feel like celebrating them, don't you? So why not wear a loud suit?"
"Hmmm. I didn't see you at church this morning," said Mimi.
"Unfortunately my mother has been ill of late, so I stayed at home to tend to her so that my sisters could attend church," he chuckled, "it really is the height of their young social lives. Quite the right place for virtuous young women, don't you think?"
"Certainly," said Mimi, a little unconvinced about Luke's character.
"I wouldn't want them going to any of those wretched jazz clubs. You know just the other day I wrote a letter to our congressman about that awful epidemic," said Luke, rotating his hat in his hand.
"Really? I can't imagine you getting a reply from that man!" said Mimi.
"Well, we have to try now, don't we?" said Luke.
"Auntie, Luke would like to take me for a walk around the neighborhood before supper." Pauline hooked her arm around Luke's elbow and giggled. "And I thought perhaps you would like to spend the rest of the afternoon in peace. I know I'm such dull company for you."
Luke suppressed a snicker, masking it as a delicate sneeze.
"Lilacs," said Luke. "This time of year they always get to me. You'll excuse me."
"Yes, I suppose you may go girl. But be back before five, and I don't want to hear that you've been to the soda counter on a Sunday."
"Oh, I wouldn't dream of it auntie! Thank you!" She bounced with glee and kissed her aunt on the forehead.
Pauline pulled Luke out of the door and into the blistering sunshine. They walked quickly down the sidewalk, past white picket fences and well-groomed gardens, and into the more industrial side of town, their hands occasionally grazing each other's. At the first proper alley, Luke ducked in and pulled Pauline towards him. They kissed deeply and he shoved her against the brick wall, slipped his hand up her skirt and unsnapped a garter.
"Not here!" said Pauline slapping his hand away. "People might see."
Luke backed away grinning. She fussed with her stocking. He pulled her back out into the sunlight. They walked up to a solid metal door and he tapped twice. A slot in the door opened up.
"Anything that is too stupid to be spoken is sung," said Luke in a clear metered voice.
The slot closed with a susurrous sslinkt. Pauline giggled and Luke looked over his shoulder. The door opened and they slipped into cool darkness.
"You said there would be music," said Pauline. They walk down a narrow hallway that was painted red and found their way to a large rectangular room, thick with smoke and filled with couples dancing languorously, draped over each other, to nothing more than the sound of shuffling. "What's going on here?"
"Shhh. There is music," said Luke smiling. "You just need ears."
Luke pulled her towards a long wooden bar. A large fat man in a plaid bowtie leaned over from the other side of the bar.
"Give us a hit, will ya?" said Luke, slapping a ten dollar bill down on the wet bar. "And two glasses of gin."
"Sure," mumbled the bartender before shuffling off.
Luke opened his cigarette case and offered Pauline a thin stick of tobacco. She took one and so did he before snapping the case shut.
"You're a big spender," said Pauline. "That's a week's wages I'd figure."
"Honey, you don't know what I make. Besides. I work at the bank."
Luke struck a match and grinned as he lit up.
"Hush now," he said. He blew smoke in Pauline's face as he lit up her cigarette.
They took a few puffs and reassessed each other. Then the bartender returned with two highball glasses filled with gin and a metal compressed gas container. A hose extended from the canister and on the other end was a rubber mask.
"What is that?" asked Pauline.
"Your ears," said Luke. He handed her the mask and turned the valve at the top of the canister. "Breath in deeply and hold it."
She took the mask and held it to her face. The gas smelled faintly of chocolate and coffee. She sucked it in, filling her lungs. It was cold and irritated her throat. She wanted to cough but she held the breath. She started to feel dizzy, and began to see that everyone moved in slow motion, and there were multiple copies of everything, overlayered on each other...
"I feel..." she said lazily, her breath wheezing out of it's own accord. Her eyes lost focus.
"It's something, ain't it?" asked Luke.
He took the mask from her and sucked in his own lungful.
"Yeah," nodded Pauline. She leaned back against the bar. The dim light in the room started to increase until there were dazzling stars dripping down from the ceiling. Pauline gazed around slowly, agog. The couples were waltzing around the room, leaving copies of themselves in different colors. Then each color copy burst into a separate sound. One woman in a white dress produced the plaintive wail of a banshee violin. Her partner was a saxophone. Pauline looked at her fingers, wiggling them, and each finger copy became the sound of a piano key. She held up her other hand and easily tapped out the melody to a hymn her aunt Mimi made her practice every morning.
"Drink up," said Luke. His words hung in the air, written out in a curlicued hand.
"You're fancy," said Pauline, grinning at the writing.
Luke handed her the glass of gin and Pauline took it, and saw that it was swimming with fireflies.
"I can't drink that," she said. "I'll kill them."
"They'll just make you feel good from the inside out."
"All right then," she said. She poured the liquid down into her mouth. It was warm and wriggly and the music in the room got louder and clearer. She put her arms around Luke's shoulders. He put his hands around her waist and drew her out towards the dance floor. She felt static and magnetism where their bodies touched and she pulled herself closer into him.
"You've brought me to paradise," she said, watch her words dissolve into the air letter by letter.
"Didn't I always say I would?" he said.
"I thought it would be by other means."
"There'll be that too," he snickered.
"How could the squares be against dancing and music?"
"They want us to be productive members of society, don't they?"
"I guess societies don't run on fun but young people sure do."
"Hush now honey. Just dance. Just listen."
"Mmmmm," said Pauline, tapping her fingers on Luke's shoulder, with each tap leaving a dot in the air that dissolved into a note.
You've got to check out the music video for this song, which was directed by Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), and is a total piece of genius. All the special effects are practical. The entire thing is one shot. And if I remember correctly, they got it on the first take after some rehearsal:
Oh, and the speakeasy pass code is a quote from Voltaire.