As Fern comes through the short hallway into the living room, she nods to the group – Vera, Gwen, Iris, and her uncle, who on Thursday afternoons crosses over into Dolores. The four of them are vamps from another era. They shave close, pad their brassieres, powder their noses, and cross their legs provocatively in dresses with back-slit skirts. Slouch hats on top of lustrous pageboy wigs, silk gardenias tucked behind their ears. Their nylons have seams. Kid gloves lie like fallen birds at the corner of the card table among the ashtrays and cocktail glasses, fluttering lightly in the breeze of an ancient electric fan set on the windowsill.
Their drag has a cut-rate quality. Although vampiness hangs in the air like musk, it’s not as though they’re impersonating Lauren Bacall or Barbara Stanwyck, but rather some second rung of actresses in the movies Harold loves (and loves Fern to watch with him) – the bad girls who get shot in the last reel, or dumped by the detective hero, or casually turned over to the cops. Audrey Totter. Lizabeth Scott. On Thursday afternoons, the room is filled with their ghosts. Everywhere, hair falls in heavy waves over eyes, lips are darkened to reddish black. Dolores and her friends look like women who are playing canasta, but would also like someone to help them murder their husbands.
Links on the blog: One character in the book is noted for calling her galoshes ‘rubbers’. In the recently–featured Cape Cod Mystery, there is this remark: ‘You have Betsey to look after and worry about and suggest wearing rubbers to, and I haven’t even a cat.’ The speaker is talking about a middle-aged woman looking out for her niece – as the date of the book is 1931, there is no mistake about what the word means, although perhaps in 2013 she might have been referring to another kind of rubbers.
The men in drag picture is from a German stage show, via Wikimedia Commons, which is also the source of the classic publicity shot of Lizabeth Scott at the time of Dead Reckoning.