Edith Morgan Blake is seven years old, walking to school, her hand in her mother’s.
Candy in her mouth, to quiet her down so she won’t complain along the way. She sucks on the gummy bear rather than chewing it, this all happening behind closed lips and a hint of a smile. Convention proposes that she chew, like all her classmates would; she defies, even though no-one can see. Edie sucks the life out of the little animal one sugar layer at a time, holding it in place between the guillotines of her teeth as it drains away, down her throat.
The last of the summer heat mixes with kitchen steam and Edie can hardly see through the haze but it doesn’t matter right now, she’s bent over in the pantry with skirt hiked up around her waist and the wet, hiccuping panting of the bell boy behind her as he aligns himself and pushes in. Edie’s hands scramble across the shelves, not because she needs to be steadied, but so she can touch whatever she can reach: she whines and groans for an audience of tin cans and paper-wrapped goods, now guilty by association. Edie is quite predictable, if you know her well.
The bell boy pulls out of her and forces Edie to her knees and she bristles with something she thinks might be lust, might be irritation. He’s coated in her sticky stuff, and when she opens her mouth to take him in she tastes herself, formless and mild and almost-sweet, before his sweat and musk overpower it. He forces her head closer and she swallows obligingly if only to follow her own taste, except she’s angry and even angrier that the anger is somehow turning into lust, translating into a gooey trickle between her legs as she ruts against the heel of her foot.
He finishes and she doesn’t, predictably, there’s no space for her to stretch out her legs and get worked up. Post-performance and she’s still feeling stretched between the stage and the back of the auditorium, which is just a fancy way of saying she’s still horny as fuck. Edie suppresses a hot flower of heat in her throat, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand and straightening out her skirt as he smiles at her, flushed and dopey.
“That was nice, Edie.”
She resists the urge to laugh at him. Each time they’ve done this, he’s said the same thing. It makes her want to bash his face in.
He’s doing up his trousers and busying himself with his cuffs, avoiding her eyes now. “I wanna see you again.”
“I see you every day,” Edie huffs, combing her fingers through her hair. It’s too long, past her shoulders now and unwieldy. Edie has her mother’s hair, long and luxuriant and glossy and envied by all the girls at school. She should cut it.
“Well, I’m—” a deep breath, “I’m joining. Enlisting. Soon.”
He’s almost sniveling, moved to tears by his own admission of patriotism. She wants to say, as if they’d take someone like you. “Congratulations,” her voice is clipped as she re-ties her apron. “Here’s to seein’ more action than me.”
His eyes narrow and his mouth parts open, caught off guard and unsure as how to interpret it. Edie rolls her shoulders and cracks her neck from side to side.
Britain has the Women’s Land Army, and the United States has declared its neutrality. Boys all over are going to war, and the whole thing leaves Edie with a bad taste in her mouth, not just because she’s sucked off the bell boy. If the Nazis ever make their way across the Atlantic, Edie’ll welcome them with open arms and closed fists.
She gets to throw her first punch at a Nazi later that year; it doesn’t amount to much.
Goddamn Kraut giantess walks in on them while she’s riding Sammy Jupiter on top of the pool table. “Get out,” Edie huffs, thighs pinning Sammy to the table and her gloved hands crawling into his mouth, muffling his gasps. He bucks under her, still hard, and that’s all she needs to know.
And the hooded dyke might just be out of there if it weren’t for Sammy’s eyes, wide and womanish and imploring. “Come now,” HJ says, grasping Edie by the scruff of her costume and pulling her off. Woman is some sort of circus freak. Edie scrambles to get free but HJ still has her hung in the air.
“Have a little self-control,” HJ says, long-suffering. Holly wanders in at that moment, big hazel eyes wide and accusing at Edie as she runs over and helps Sammy to his feet.
“Fuck you,” Edie spits at all of them, one of her punches landing on HJ’s right breast.
Ms. Schexnayder calls her in the next day for a talk. “Edie, honey,” she says, voice syrupy and practiced and every inch of her secretarial and pressed and proper, “we’re all trying to work together here. You’re letting your fellow sisters down if you think that you can…” Ms. Schexnayder falters a little and she takes her glasses off, polishing them on the hem of her skirt, “…start up something with Sammy.”
Edie guffaws, most unladylike. “You think I care about sisterhood?” The word is spat out like dirt, and makes Edie think of the first time she knocked a burglar in the face, the flex of her knuckles meeting the crackling give of a fractured jaw; that sure as hell wasn’t for sisterhood. Seeing the kraut’s and the fairy’s names in the papers, “Hooded Justice and Silhouette Take Down Child Pornography Ring,” that didn’t inspire her to take up the yellow boiler suit and start going out at night.
If she had to be damn honest, it was the cut of HJ’s stalwart heroism, the glint in Silhouette’s eyes, that did her in. God, they looked like they’d been having fun.
“Edie,” and every time Schexnayder says her name, it’s like they’re still best friends, homewivey girlfriends, and Edie feels a thrill of revulsion creeping up her spine. “We were all hurt by what you tried to do. Just try not to make things so hard for us.”
Sometimes, her brain forgets that it’s not supposed to be sixteen, and Edie shoots back, almost petulantly, “He wanted to.”
“Boys will be boys,” Schexnayder shrugs, with a long-suffering sigh, like she knows everything. “But it’s not about that, Edie. It’s about what’s good for us as a group. Please,” she implores, “think of your sisters next time, all right? We’re all here for each other.”
Edie bristles until she can’t bristle anymore, then storms out of the office.
Edie chats up a number of people at the 10th Anniversary Benefit for the School of American Ballet. Schexnayder lectures them for an hour beforehand how it is important that they be seen, that they be well-behaved (with a pointed glance at Edie) at this event, how important it is to support culture and the endeavors of young women in fine and musical arts, how they must be affiliated with the proper causes, and so on.
When Edie is approached, she feigns indifference or ignorance and this is enough to deter the more faint of heart, the shyer folk. But whenever there is a direct entreaty for conversation, convention stipulates that she must reply.
This one is named Gary Curtis, once married, now divorced, with a daughter attending the School, and he very much admires what Edie is doing for her country. A number of Schexnayder-approved, PR-appropriate responses follow.
“Ah, well,” Gary murmurs. “Certainly you wouldn’t do this if you didn’t want to, right? You must have had your reasons for joining this line of work.”
The string quartet is in the throes of Vivaldi; elsewhere, glasses clink and voices smooth over current events, trends, high society antics. Schexnayder is hanging off Sammy’s arm (or is it the other way around?), schmoozing with the chairman of the School; Beryl and Billie are by the open bar, trying their best not to get too soused (but they’re still giggling over each other’s shoulders silly), Holly looking worriedly over to make sure they're not embarrassing themselves, that they remain well-behaved. Silhouette has struck up a conversation with the School’s choreographer, hip cocked out at a jaunty angle; Nellie looks conspicuously alone without HJ at her side, fending off a gaggle of men in waistcoats who chorus over how beautiful she looks tonight, and surely she’s of a dance background?
“To be honest, Mr. Curtis,” Edie shrugs, rather mysterious and debonair and playful, like she’s supposed to be, “I enjoy the fight.” A sip of her cocktail, a sidelong glance from the corner of her eye, and her voice dips. It would be more flirtatious if it weren’t so sotto voce. “Perhaps more than I should.”
Schexnayder thinks that they’re doing something good for women all over the world. Don’t think Edie doesn’t know. Paragons of justice, a group of watchful women, ready to play mother to their home country while the men are overseas. Each one of them, from the tip of HJ’s hood to the rubber-tipped heel of Metropolass’s stilettos, a Lady of American Liberty and American Justice—
—America’s feminine virtue is fueling the homesick fantasies of tent-ridden soldiers, hands down their pants and panting to Billie and Holly's perky tits and Beryl’s strappy leather gear and Nellie’s good-ol’ blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl-next-door sex appeal. They’ve even got the fairies covered, with Silhouette’s dashing dark looks, svelte figure and red tie, Steel Specter’s amped-up muscles incongruous with the softness of his eyes and the round, glistening pout of his lips.
Edie has an idea where Schexnayder stands on the government “propaganda” department payroll.
What she isn’t quite sure of is where she stands as a sex icon. It’s certainly not this femme fatale getup they’ve got her in— she’s not sure how she’ll be able to crack a smile at this point, the fishnets as itchy as a fire ant-infested hell and her sweat pooling out of the black bodice thing. She’s holding two masks in her hand— Comedy and Tragedy, and supposed to be juggling them, clownish, standing on her tiptoes in these lace-up boots and tripping over herself. The Comedienne can’t (shouldn’t) give you wit, no slick-smart responses, but she can sure give you slapstick antics.
Edie’s camera smile is Duchenne, full of teeth.
“This isn’t working,” the photographer sighs, and Schexnayder curses under her breath. Over to the side, Silhouette worries at his hair, next in line, and Sammy watches on anxiously, trying not to look like he’s too concerned.
“Take five, Edie,” Schexnayder snaps. Silhouette trots a little too eagerly to the camera, striking poses like he’s been practicing them all week (and Edie knows that he has, has caught him adjusting his tie oh-so-cavalierly in front of the mirror multiple times).
Sammy’s standing there with a glass of water in hand, waiting for her, ever the gentleman. She grabs it out of his hand and gulps it down, more for show than for thirst, watching him watch her as her throat bobs and she thinks, yeah, you’d like that, wouldn’t you. Sammy looks over at the camera, lips tucked in under his teeth in a momentary agitation, then back at Edie.
“You really don’t like this, do you.”
“It’s definitely more Silhouette’s scene than mine,” Edie smirks, but it comes out as a snarl. Goddamn fruit is prancing in front of the camera, has no shame. But there’s no shame in this game, is there? Edie already knows this, so what’s she waiting for?
“Just think of something you like doing,” Sammy tries again, encouraging. She turns her leer on him, deliberately raking her gaze over him, slo-o-o-wly, from his boots to the bulge in his briefs, over the broad canvas of his chest to the tippy-tops of his ears. Then back down, and back up. The camera clicks distantly and Edie licks her lips. It’s a predictable move, and Edie wants to laugh uproariously at Sammy’s flustered expression. He’d asked for it, dumb bastard.
When she gets in front of the camera again, she thinks of dragging herself up and down Sammy, slowly,
click, goes the shutter
teasing her way up and down the length of his dick until he’s begging for it, click, until every buck of his hips sends her head crashing into the chandelier above the pool table.
She thinks about hitting HJ in the face again and again, click, until it’s full of blood and ripping off the hood only bequeaths the viewer with a bouquet of red underneath, click.
She thinks about a lot of things as she poses for the photographer. Arms hooked around the back of a chair, legs spread and a mask in either hand, click. Hiding behind the face of Comedy and staring straight into the eyes of Tragedy, tush stuck out and hip cocked invitingly at the camera, click. The last shot, looking directly into the camera, props abandoned. The photographer asks her to be playful, so Edie looks directly at Schexnayder and thinks about bashing her nose in with a well-aimed punch. Her smile only shows a hint of teeth, her eyes are narrowed, sultry.
The photos are developed and they’re all looking at the portfolio one evening before patrol. HJ looks dim and imposing in her pictures, relegated to a background prop as Nellie’s bright-eyed, feminine naivete does the job for the both of them. Silhouette is appropriately debonair, looking more like a smug pimp than a crimefighter. Billie’s pinup photos are all-American with a gusto, perky in her tights and thumbs hooked flirtatiously behind her suspenders, stretching them in front of her. Beryl has her shoulders crooked, the bend of her neck ripe for the ravishing, gaze filled with forlorn mystery. Holly's smile is close-lipped and kind, hair billowing in loose waves from under her cowl. Sammy leans into the camera easily, as if the viewer were an old friend and he were just caught off guard, masculinity unthreatening; he could be anybody’s friend, anybody’s lover.
Edie looks like she’s going to eat them all.
“I really like this one of you, Edie.” Beryl pushes over a photo where Edie’s got one leg propped up on the chair, showing a generous amount of thigh, holding Comedy straight ahead in her hand and her head thrown back in laughter. Tragedy tucked behind her back, languishing in shadow. “It’s quite moving.”
“We don’t aim to move,” Edie quips, crumpling the photo between her fingers. She fixes Schexnayder with a blank, pleasant expression. “We aim to please.”
“Well," Sammy says, leaning in and hand dangerously close to her belly, "Don’t you want to know?” His voice is a little broken.
“Let’s just consider it one of God’s little surprises,” she replies. It's meant to sound ironic, sneering, but it comes out kind, unsure.
It’s a boy.
Edie is almost in danger of crushing the little bastard when they hand him to her. She doesn’t coo at the thing, but holds him fiercely against her chest. Her head feels like it’s floating ten feet above her body but some motherly part of her manages to bend it down to peck at the baby’s fuzzy skull.
It’s a boy.