DELETED SCENE #1
For a long time, this was Chapter 1 of the novel. I love this scene – especially the last lines. I decided, in the end, that it was too slow a start. I wanted to cut more quickly to the action that drives the narrative, which is Lucy meeting TJ, and so I (reluctantly!) axed this scene. It’s always very hard to let go of pages like this, but deletion is a critical part of the creative process. My allegiance has to be to the story, not to my ego. I think I made a choice that strengthened the book. I wonder if you agree. Note that all these deleted scenes appear exactly as they were on my computer. They were not copyedited, proofread or vetted in any way. It’s totally raw writing.
The girls from the typing pool were whispering about Perfect Red. One of them had a golden tube of the bright red lipstick, and four others were gathered around it, peering at it, marveling at it, daring each other to touch it to their lips.
“Maybe Jamison Fenwick is going to call up another secretary today,” one of them said, “Maybe Perfect Red will work for that, too.”
“He looks like a toad,” another said.
“But a rich toad who has the whole island of Manhattan at his fingertips.”
“My mother would kill me if she caught me wearing Perfect Red,” one of them said, seizing the tube of lipstick, and then she saw me in the doorway of the lounge. She caught my eye, lifted her chin, shut her mouth. The other girls turned and looked at me, and they shifted their bodies to hide the lipstick and shifted their pencil-skirted hips to show their defiance.
I didn’t mind that they teased me for being ambitious and hardworking, but I hated that they thought I was naïve. It was 1952 and I had been living in New York on my own for four months. I knew more about the way the world worked than they imagined. “Perfect Red?” I asked nonchalantly.
The girl who had been holding the lipstick laughed and her eyes flicked to the demure collar of my white blouse – the same white blouse I wore every Monday and Wednesday. She was wearing a sweater, of course – cashmere, fitted, a scoop neck. Her breasts looked like rocket ships on display at an air show. “What do you know about Perfect Red?” she asked.
I shrugged my shoulders. I knew that it was a limited edition matte red lipstick from Stella, the French cosmetics giant, and that the moment she saw it, Marilyn Monroe vowed she would never wear anything else. I knew that women swore it had the power to make a man go wild with desire – and what they meant wasn’t just that it was alluring. They believed that the lipstick had actual power. Classified, top secret, French engineered power. The Russians had atomic bombs that could wipe out New York City. Why couldn’t the French have a lipstick that could guarantee that a girl would get her man?
Within my own family, the power of Perfect Red had already been proven true. My father, a chemist at the DuPont headquarters, had been passed over when they chose the team that was now celebrated for creating nylon during the war. He worked, instead, on formulas for soap and in his spare time, in our family garage, tried desperately to make the next great American chemical discovery. His goal was a patent in his own name – not a DuPont patent, but a Phil Lawrence patent. Towards that end, he was constantly bringing home packaged foods, house paints and newfangled kitchen cleansers to evaluate their merits and determine what else might be possible, and at work he was constantly talking to other scientists about how to get the company to give up patent control of discoveries made on the job. He first heard about Perfect Red through the rumor mill: it was said that the chemist responsible for the lipstick that had caused such a frenzy had 100% ownership of his formula. The Frenchman was, in fact, keeping it a secret not only from his competitors but from his colleagues. That news primed the pump -- and when my father saw Perfect Red on the lips of my cousin, June, who had disgraced the family by running away from home to become a Stella salesgirl, he became a man obsessed. He had to know what could possibly make a substance so perfectly red. Cochineal beetles from South America? Lead based pigments from China? He sent for exotic materials from the four corners of the globe, and spent so much time tinkering with them in his makeshift lab that you could dance circles naked around the living room and he would never notice.
And that was practically what my sister Laura did two months earlier. She stole money from my mother’s purse to take the train into New York on the day a shipment of Perfect Red lipstick was slated to arrive at Saks Fifth Avenue – the only place in the city where you could buy a tube. It was June, of course, who tipped Laura off. June was by then a Perfect Red evangelist, a high priestess of cosmetic salvation. And so it was that my sister Laura stood with the chattering crowd at the doors of Saks, pressing to get in and be one of the lucky few who came away with Perfect Red. By the time she got to the counter, they had sold out, but thanks to June, there was a golden tube of lipstick waiting for her in a small brown plaid bag under the counter. She slipped June the $3 – which would have bought thirty postage stamps, twelve milkshakes or three paperback books – and took the train back to Wilmington. Within a week, Laura had caught the eye of Bill O’Brian, the older, more dashing brother of Bobby, the boy she had already promised to marry. Bill had just received a promotion at the bank and he had a house of his own over on Oak and Main. Laura deemed him a better catch, and she used Perfect Red to lure him in, throwing Bobby back into the water like an underfed minnow.
My mother was naturally mortified at Laura’s behavior. Mrs. O’Brian was one of her bridge partners. “It’s worse than horse trading,” she said, and threw Laura’s prized lipstick in the trash. My mother forbid June – her only sisters’ only daughter -- from coming to our home and forbid me and Laura from speaking to anyone from that side of the family. Then she set about planning the most socially correct wedding anyone in Wilmington had ever seen, convinced that excruciatingly proper etiquette was the only antidote to the embarrassment that Laura had brought down on our family name.
No one ever mentioned the embarrassment of my father – his endless hours in the garage, and his petitions and rallying cries for the naming of patents. McCarthy was sniffing around every corporation in the country hunting for Communists and anything that smelled like organized labor or a threat to management was enough to get people accused of being anti-American, yanked from their jobs, and thrown in jail. So no one breathed a word about that embarrassment – at least not in public. I’m sure there were many fingers wagged behind closed doors, many whispered warnings to be wary of those Lawrences.. But people didn’t have to mention their scorn for my mother to feel it, and as soon as Laura piled on another embarrassment, my mother did something about it. And so it was that at Laura’s wedding in December, there would be strands of pearls on every collarbone and dyed-to-match poi de soie shoes on every foot. There would be cream colored engraved stationary in every mailbox and chicken marsala on every plate. To prove that we were above reproach, my mother was throwing the wedding of the century, and it never even occurred to her that this was playing directly into my sister’s greedy hands.
Was it any wonder that I fled to secretarial school and a job in the city?
“What do I know about Perfect Red?” I now said to the girls in the Fenwick lounge, “What I know about it is that it leads to nothing but trouble.”
“And trouble is not exactly your cup of tea, is it?” the ringleader of the group purred. Her name was Cecelia. She sat in the back of the typing pool gossiping instead of typing and was the first to volunteer to go upstairs on any sort of errand where she might be seen by one of the editors or the salesmen or the men who worked in the finance department. When she came back down, her hair was often mussed and her lipstick smeared. I was convinced Cecelia didn’t even know that Fenwick was in the business of publishing books and would have bet my life she had never read one of them.
“I do my best to stay out of trouble,” I said.
They laughed again. Trouble was, of course, the reason most of them were even here. They wanted to have fun and then they wanted a man to pluck them from the crowd and plant them in a big house. They wanted crystal bar glasses, an Electrolux vacuum cleaner and an Osterizer blender. They wanted one day to throw an excruciatingly correct wedding for their daughters.
“How boring,” a girl named Franny said.
I turned on her. “Some of the most important books of our time have been made in this building,” I said, “We’re not just helping run a business, we’re helping bring stories to life. I, for one, take that task very seriously and I don’t think there’s anything boring about it.”
I expected applause. Some sort of booming response. And when I had all the girls’ attention, I would tell them about how books had saved me, how the typewriter seemed to call to me and how I hoped one day to write a story of my own.
But nothing like that happened. My imagination, once again, outran reality. The girls sneered. Then Cecelia stepped forward. “Why don’t you just try a little Perfect Red?” she said, “You’d be the perfect test case. The perfect chance to prove that it really is as powerful as they say. And it would look so striking against that porcelain skin of yours and that golden hair. It would be so Marilyn Monroe.”
I said nothing and she moved towards me like a snake. “It’s practically un-American to refuse,” she hissed, “It’s practically un-patriotic.” She clearly didn’t know that Perfect Red came from France. She obviously couldn’t see that since just being called Red now seemed to be some kind of crime in this country, wearing a siren red lipstick could be seen as an act of defiance – a personal statement of patriotism. She was ignorant and mean, but still, her voice made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
I shook my head and stepped away from her. “No thank you,” I said.
“I hear that Jamison Fenwick may be calling up a new secretary any day now,” she cooed, “Perfect Red might help you land the job.”
I swallowed. Up in the editorial offices where the manuscripts were stacked from floor to ceiling and the writers came to talk with their editors, I could start learning what I needed to know about writing books. That was why I had come to New York and why I had worked so hard to become the fastest typist in the Fenwick typing pool. I often stayed to work through lunch and was usually the last girl to leave at the end of the day. At night in my rented room at the Barbizon Women’s Hotel, I sometimes lay in bed listening to the sounds of the city and holding my hands in the air in the proper typing position, imagining where the centering “g” would be, memorizing the reach for “p.” I believed that the next time Jamison Fenwick needed a secretary he wouldn’t pick one based on the color of her lips; he would pick one based on how fast she typed.
I reached into my handbag for my pale pink lipstick. It was a color called Sea Shell. I turned towards the mirror and began to apply it, willfully ignoring Cecelia’s taunt.
“Suit yourself,” Cecelia said, and leaned towards the mirror right next to me. She slowly applied Perfect Red to her pouty lips, rubbed them together suggestively, blotted them with a tissue, then leaned so close to me I thought she might stain my ear. My stomach recoiled before she even spoke. “Your loss,” she whispered.
That afternoon, as if his appearance had been scripted, Joseph Fenwick stormed through the basement doors of the typing pool. A moment later, his son Jamison followed. Joseph was a tall, broad man with a full head of grey hair and a face that appeared to be all business – no extra motion in the lips to form a smile, no laugh lines around the eyes. Jamison had inherited his father’s broad forehead, his too strong nose. He really did look like a frog. At once, the room went stone quiet. All the girls lifted their hands from their typewriters and held their breaths. We all knew about Jamison Fenwick: how authors kept leaving him, how his books kept losing money, and how his father was giving him one last chance to prove himself worthy of running the company. We also knew that in the last two months Jamison had never kept a secretary for more than two weeks. Girls were called up from the typing pool as soon as after they learned how to make the coffee and answer the phones, they were dismissed, never to be heard from again. Graduates of The Ames Business School could try going back to ask Mrs. Ames for help in finding another job, but everyone knew what she would say before refusing to help them in any way: “I am not running a temp agency.”
“Bernadette,” Joseph bellowed, “I’m tired of the ridiculous girls my son has been calling up from this typing pool. Stupid girls! Insufferable girls! If he’s going to have a chance in hell of becoming the kind of businessman who can run this company, he’s going to need a solid secretary. Give me a girl who can type and a girl who can think for herself.”
Miss Bernadette cast her eyes over the room, flitting over one girl who was always the first to go to lunch and the last to return, and over another girl who always asked someone else to unstick her typewriter keys so that she didn’t snag her fingernails, and finally resting on Cecelia. I watched Cecelia roll her shoulders back so that her breasts jutted out even further. She curled her Perfect Red lips into a smile and fixed her liquid eyes on Miss Bernadette. She did everything but leap to her feet.
I scraped my chair back on the linoleum floor and stood up.
“Miss Bernadette,” I said, “I can do it.”
I could feel the faces of all the girls turning towards me. I could feel the shock coming off of them in waves – Lucy Lawrence stood up? Lucy Lawerence recommended herself? Cecelia whipped around to face me, her mouth a perfectly round red O.
Joseph Fenwick looked me up and down and then he swiveled back to Miss Bernadette. “Is this girl a good choice? If I have to come back down here in a week looking for someone else, it’s going to be your neck on the line.”
Miss Bernadette leveled her eyes at me. “No,” she said coolly, “No, this girl won’t do. I have a much better girl for you.” She turned back to the place where she had started. “Cecelia? Please gather your things and come this way.”
Cecelia scraped her chair back and stood up. “Right away, Miss Bernadette,” she said.
I watched her lean down and pick up her handbag. I watched her push her chair back from her desk. I was still standing awkwardly in the back of the room – exposed, humiliated. “I’m a faster typist than she is,” I blurted.
“Lucy Lawrence,” Miss Bernadette snapped, “Please sit down!”
“And I’m a harder worker and a much better reader,” I said.
Miss Bernadette began to march towards me, and I imagined her grabbing me by the elbow with her large hands and shoving me all the way out to the sidewalk.
“Bernadette,” Joseph suddenly said, pointing his chin at me. “Stop right there. I like this girl’s spunk.”
“Mr. Fenwick, I don’t think…”
“I like her, too,” Jamison said.
“Then it’s decided,” Joseph said. He raised his hand and motioned to me with a fat finger.
I left the sheet of paper I had been working on in the typewriter; picked up my coat and my purse; stood, and walked to the front of the room. I fell in step behind Joseph and Jamison and just before I passed through the door, I looked back at Cecelia and pressed my Sea Shell lips into a smile.