Dark Side

Night Photography in Virginia

Norfolk’s White Way, 1942

Alan Fisher (b. 1913) Norfolk’s White Way, East Main Street, where sailors on liberty like to congregate, is a    mixture, in miniature, of New York’s 42nd Street and Coney Island. 1942

Alan Fisher (b. 1913)
Norfolk’s White Way, East Main Street, where sailors on liberty like to congregate, is a mixture, in miniature, of New York’s 42nd Street and Coney Island. 1942

 

Respond to this image with short story or poem (under 1,000 words) and post it below to enter the Dark Side Writing Contest. See Contest Information page for full details.

Though the official contest is now over ( see Winning Entries), you can still enter for the People’s Choice Award or vote for your favorites below! Through Oct. 5

Creative Commons License
This work by Library of Virginia is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

4 Responses to “Norfolk’s White Way, 1942”

  1. Elizabeth Ballou says:

    A quick note: This story was actually inspired by the image “Night View: Facing East on the 200 Block of East Main Street.” However, that image isn’t online, so I’m posting here instead! I was inspired by the way the photography style resulted in after-images of the men walking the streets after dark, making it look like they had shadows.

    THE DARK SIDE

    “And you’re saying all I have to do is sign my name here?” the woman asked, her voice on the edge between want and fear. “You’ll send me the money?”
    “In four payments,” Henry said, smoothing his necktie. He noticed that her skirt was unraveling at the edges. Pimples ran down the length of her chin like a chain of hills. The moment when he started picking up on these details was his least favorite part of the deal. “We’ll schedule an appointment for you with our physicist. Within the week, I’d say.”
    “You swear it won’t hurt? I won’t feel…”
    “No, no, never,” he cut her off. “You may feel occasionally lethargic the first few months as your body accustoms itself.” He doubted she knew what ‘lethargic’ meant.
    She blinked. “All right.”
    The eidolon beside him, a shadowy figure in a bowler hat and sport coat, handed her a pen. The woman took it gingerly, as if it were a clawed animal. Henry’s eyes skimmed to the end of the contract with hers.

    By his/her signature, the client does hereby permit Mann & Co. to perform, with single-electrode vacuum tubes, the separation of his/her body from his/her eidolon; and that said eidolon becomes the property of Mann & Co., in exchange for $1,500, for one calendar year and a day.
    X__________

    “Wonderful,” he said when she was done. “Absolutely wonderful.”

    * * *
    Helen Mann had been Frank Mann’s typist before she was his wife. She still moved in quick, sure motions in the office, making Henry feel clumsy and slow. Her neck was white and stem-like, and she painted her lips and nails the same deep pink.
    “Five sales today,” she said as her hands spasmed over the typewriter, nodding in approval. “Someone’s been busy.”
    Henry glanced at her tiny waist. He suspected she still wore a corset, though they had gone out of fashion ten years ago. “That makes – what? A hundred and fifty eidola?”
    “A hundred and fifty-four,” she corrected. One of the hundred and fifty-four was melting around the cracked-open door right now, like a winter wind. It unfolded itself into a shape like a small girl’s, picked up Helen’s empty teacup with hands like smoke, and hurried away.
    “Sometimes I wonder if Tesla ever thought of all this happening,” Henry said. Tesla’s accidental discovery in 1904 of the eidolon, a shadowy double that could be split from a person with the proper application of vacuum tubes and electrical current, had seeded new religions and provided new business opportunities. Eleven years later, swarms of eidola swept houses and sold papers. The ones who had lost theirs said it didn’t hurt, that you hardly felt it after a while. And yet Henry could always tell who had given theirs up, although he wouldn’t have been able to say what gave it away.
    “Of course he didn’t,” said Helen, eyes glittering. “That’s our job.”
    “Whose job?” boomed Frank from the stairwell. Henry smelled the musk of his cologne before he saw him. Frank flicked his tongue between his teeth, like a cobra, when he saw Henry. “Shouldn’t you be gone by six?”
    “Now, Frank,” Helen said.
    “Company policy.”
    “I’ll go. Kate’s waiting.” Henry tugged on his coat.
    As he closed the door to the offices of Mann & Co., he could hear the rumblings of eidola all around him, like the machinations of some unseen clock.

    * * *

    He found Kate curled on the front room couch of their apartment on Brambleton St. like a cat, her frayed stockings peeping out from under her skirt. “Look at this,” she said, riffling the pages of the Sears Modern Home catalog in her hands. “The Hamilton starts at a grand. It has three bedrooms. A music room.”
    “And we’d still have to construct it ourselves, once we ordered the materials.” He began removing the pins from her thick, red hair, moving his hands through it, burying himself in its perfumed smell.
    “The Chelsea’s a bit cheaper.”
    “Mmm.”
    She unknotted his necktie. “How was work?”
    “I made five sales.”
    Kate fixed him with the dark, liquid eyes that had first caught him from across a Norfolk dance hall two years ago. “And you get – what? Three dollars for each?”
    “It’s enough,” he said, restless.
    “Not enough for the Hamilton.” Kate crossed to the small liquor cabinet and mixed him a gin fizz without asking. “I’ve been thinking…” Henry took a sip, waiting. She squared her shoulders. “What if I sold it?”
    “Sold what?”
    “Don’t be dense, Henry.” She fiddled with her hair. “We could use fifteen hundred. Maybe get out of apartments for good.” The Brambleton apartment had three rooms, worn floorboards, thin walls. Every day he could feel Kate, with her dancer’s feet and half-formed dreams, straining at its edges.
    “I’m doing better. Moving up. They’ll pay me more-”
    “Not with Helen in charge of the books.”
    He downed his drink. Kate got up to make him another. “God, Kate, no. Do you understand? I’ve seen people stand still for hours. Forgetting what they were doing. They lose something.”
    “That’s a rumor.”
    “They’re going to use them in the war.”
    Kate’s mouth dropped open. “What?”
    “I overheard Helen and Frank. He’s gotten offers to send eidola over to Europe. They’d wash uniforms, clean rifles.”
    “For which side?”
    “I don’t know that much.” He touched her hand. “A year and a day is a long time to be without something we don’t understand yet.”
    Kate squeezed his fingers. “Why don’t I get you supper?”
    “It’s almost ten o’clock,” he said, distracted, but let her sit him down at their little table. As he glanced out the window, he could hear the soft, familiar sounds of her in the kitchen. Below them, drifting down the street, were eidola made translucent in puddles of streetlight. They looked like pencil drawings, he thought, where someone had rubbed out the lines with water.
    He drew a hand across his face, wondering how many of them he had caused to be made.

  2. Laura Doran Cribbs says:

    Almost time for the trolley
    Finally get to go home
    Spent the night at the Victor
    While I’m free just to roam

    On the ship come tomorrow
    Setting out on the sea
    Memories of the White Way
    Will be sailing with me

    Of the girl named Letetia
    Who put on quite a show
    But looked frightened and forlorn
    If you just glimpsed below

    The glitz and the glamor
    We’re all just a ploy
    To distract and beguile
    This seafaring boy

    Yes the ship she’ll be sailing
    Back across the sea
    And soon I’ll be home
    Just my Molly and me

    In the village of Sligo
    On Donegal Bay
    She’ll search for the mast
    Then be running my way

  3. Kaitlyn Britt says:

    At the peek of the night
    even the trolleys lie at rest,
    awaiting the electric charge morning
    brings, like coffee to the systems.
    Cars line the tracks, prestenely clean
    paint reflecting the light
    of periodically placed lamps,
    suspended like bridges between the ground
    and the sky,
    motionless with the inactivity
    of trolleys.

Dark Side writing contest

Required fields are marked *