The Last Jump

“But for every man there exists a bait which he cannot resist swallowing.”

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

The cool breeze, hastened by an onshore gust from the James River, was refreshing as it swept the heat of the day from the sidewalks.  The shadows of the buildings lengthened as the day wore to a close.  Macie Vance and Nora Lee had just finished a double shift and chatted as they walked among the crowd headed toward the busses and home.  Macie was wearing a pair of new coveralls over a man-tailored short-sleeved shirt.  A red print bandana kept her hair in place.  Nora was dressed the same, as were most of the other women, only Nora wore a white polo shirt under her coveralls.  They both carried metal lunch boxes and Macie held a welder’s helmet in her other hand.  They sauntered with a casualness of having recently accomplished something worthwhile.

A group of men were walking in the other direction.  They whistled the universally familiar two-note call in unison as they passed by.  Macie became a bit self-conscious but Nora turned to face them as they looked back over their shoulders.

“Bring it on, boys,” she smiled as she walked backwards and raised both of her arms as if to show off her entire body.  “I just love the attention!”  Then she turned and slapped her backside.

The young men quickly turned away.  It was unusual for women to confront men who wolf-whistled at them.  Nora surprised them.

She was a beautiful blonde who resembled a taller version of Veronica Lake.  When Nora’s shoulder length hair wasn’t pinned under her bandana, it hung lazily over her right eye imitating the iconic peek-a-boo hairstyle of the popular actress.  The men could have been whistling at either of the girls but it was Nora who instinctively responded.  She simply would not be intimidated by any of the men in the dockyard.

“Don’t ever let them get away with nothing,” she whispered to Macie as they walked.

“You’re something, Nora,” was all Macie could say in reply.

“Gangway, ladies,” an older heavy set man yelled as he pushed his way between them and walked quickly toward the gate.  He knocked both of them off balance and Nora almost fell.

“Very nice, you old fart.  What a gentleman you are!” Nora hollered as he made his way through the crowd.

“Listen sister,” he yelled back over his shoulder.  “Why don’t you go to the tool crib and get the left-handed monkey wrench?”  The older man guffawed at his joke.

“Try another one, fatso,” Nora replied.  “That stupid old prank won’t work anymore.”

“Why don’t you go back to the kitchen where you ladies belong, barefoot and pregnant?” he yelled back.  He got a chorus of catcalls and boos from the other women walking toward the gate.  Nora flipped him her middle finger.  A wide-eyed Macie stifled a giggle at the gesture.

“Oh my gosh, Nora.  You’re terrible,” Macie laughed.

“He deserved it, the lazy fat bastard.”  She raised her head to look for him disappearing in the crowd and raised her voice toward him.  “You heard me, you’re a good-for-nothing lazy fat bastard and you can go to hell.”  The other women yelled sentiments of agreement.

Macie continued to laugh.  None of the women behaved that way in Bedford.  She was both amused and a little embarrassed.

“I’ve seen him around before,” Nora continued.  “He has a problem with women working in the yard and he doesn’t care who knows it.  He has a problem with niggers too.  Next time he pushes me I’m going to crown him with this lunch bucket.”

“Okay, me too.  We’ll both hit him,” Macie smiled.

“I’m not kidding, Macie.  It’s bad enough some of these fat old men make almost twice as much as we do for the same jobs but then they run around treating us like we’re shit.  They make all that money while our guys are fighting this war.  Bullshit!  I’m not taking their crap.”  Nora became angrier at the thought of her boyfriend who was still missing in action in the Philippines.

“Really, they make more than we do?”  Macie was genuinely surprised.

“More than the niggers, too,” Nora confirmed.  “I don’t know how the shipyard gets away with it but that’s the truth.”

Macie shook her head in disbelief.  She didn’t doubt Nora but found it hard to understand.  “There’s probably a good reason.  They probably have more experience than us,” Macie rationalized.  “Besides, I’m making more money than I ever did and more than I can spend.”

“You’ll see, Macie.  When you start working rings around these guys and leaving them in the dust, you’ll still be making less than all of them.”

Before Macie could answer, she spotted Derek Edson coming out of the crowd and walking toward them.  “Oh, there he is.”

“That’s the guy you told me about?” asked Nora.  “Girl, he’s a dreamboat!”

Derek approached them.  “Congratulations, Macie.  I heard you graduated and got assigned.”  He held out his left hand.

She took it.  “Yes, over a week ago, thanks.  They have me welding sub-assemblies in the big shed down by the wharf.  I hear they’re going into your ship, the Bon Homme Richard.”  She let go of his hand and introduced him to Nora as the guy who recruited her to the shipyard.  Nora didn’t let on that she knew of him.

“Sub-assemblies.  That’s great.  It won’t be long before they have you right on the ship itself, joining iron, as they say, welding the hull and bulkheads and stuff.  Maybe you’ll even be on my crew,” he speculated.

Macie smiled.  Derek had a way of finding her despite the vastness of the shipyard.  He bumped into her almost every day while she was in Welding School.  Now, he accidentally ran into her again.  She was flattered that he seemed to be making an effort to stumble upon her.  Her question was not whether or not he was doing it on purpose; the question was how was he doing it on purpose.

“I’m glad I ran into you,” he smiled back.  “I hoped maybe we could go to a movie to celebrate your graduation.”

Macie glanced at Nora and then back to Derek.  “I don’t think so.  But thanks anyway, Derek.” Macie averted Derek’s eyes and looked back at Nora.

Derek recovered.  “Oh, Nora, of course, please.  You’re welcome to come too.  I have a buddy, nice guy…”

“I don’t do blind dates,” Nora interrupted.  “Besides, we both have boyfriends.”

Macie glanced quickly at Nora who gave her a quizzical look back.

Derek had to think fast.  He appealed to Nora.  “It’s not a date, so it can’t be a blind date.”  He shifted his gaze to Macie.  “We’d be going in a group…just friends.”

“As just friends, right?” Macie anxiously confirmed.

“Of course.  There’s a new Jimmy Cagney movie playing at the Palace, Yankee Doodle Dandy.  Just released.  I hear it’s swell.”

Macie looked over at Nora.  She wanted to go but not alone.  Nora picked up on the silent plea and answered for both of them.  “Okay, Derek.  Bring your buddy.  We’ll all go but just friends.  No funny stuff, Derek.  Got it?”

“No problem.  I swear.  As friends.”