Marjorie Klein

Test Pattern

(excerpt from Test Pattern):

Lorena was seventeen that summer, a summer of long, lackadaisical days spent baking in the sun at nearby Buckroe Beach. Face down on an old frayed blanket redolent of suntan oil, sweat, and mustard from hot dogs bought at the stand, she lay immobile for hours, lulled by the throbbing pulsation of waves and the bubbling music of the merry-go-round calliope.

From the vortex of darkness behind her closed eyes a recurring fantasy would emerge: being tapped for stardom by a Hollywood talent scout. “You are magnificently gorgeous,” exclaimed the phantasmagorical scout of her imagination, “but can you dance?” And she dazzled him on the spot with the Ginger Rogers footwork.

Prone on her blanket, lost in her dream, Lorena was so certain that fame would come to her that her baby-oil-and-iodine-basted body shivered with anticipation.

It was Della who suggested that Lorena enter the Miss Buckroe contest. Della would have entered herself, but she had broken her elbow doing a swan dive off the high board trying to impress some guy at the Community Center pool and had to wear a cast for most of the summer. She wouldn’t be able to perform her baton twirling for the talent part of the competition. But, she pointed out, Lorena could tap-dance.

“Miss Buckroe?” Lorena’s round nose wrinkled in dismissal at the suggestion. “They don’t care about talent. Besides,” she sighed in a fit of candor, “I’m too flat-chested for any beauty contest.”

“Socks,” said Della.

“Socks?”

“Everybody does it. We’ll stuff socks in your bathing suit.”

So, sock-stuffed chest held high on the Fourth of July, Lorena lined up with nine other sweating girls on the flag-draped plywood platform in front of the balloon-dart concession. Although she could tell from the wide grins on the faces of the judges that her tap-dance routine had gone flawlessly, she knew that her appearance in a bathing suit was what really counted.

Clutching her cardboard with the number “3” painted on it, she posed like the others: front toe of her high-heel shoe angled forward, hips tilted one way, head tipped the other. Mayor Gupkie, Councilman Bunting, and the editor of the Daily Press made notes, chewed gum, and studied with narrowed eyes the rigid bodies of the contestants.

She felt their gazes scrape over her body like a trio of razor blades, peeling away her white Jantzen from the top of its argyle-plumped bosom to the bottom of its modesty-paneled skirt. She gritted her teeth, froze her smile, and stared way, way up at the Ferris wheel. It turned slowly against a sky blackening with carbuncle clouds, lumpy and rumbling with muted thunder.

She looked down. Behind the three huddling judges was Della, waving at her with her cast, giving her the okay sign with her good hand, thumb and forefinger joined in a circle. Della—corkscrew curls escaping from a wide headband, soft round bosom mounding over her bathing suit like generous scoops of ice cream over a cone—Della, Lorena thought, should be up here, not I. And she felt a sudden rush of love for her friend who was smiling and waving bravely, cheering her on.

Lorena’s frozen smile broke into a grin; her whole face beamed and melted. In that instant the three judges looked at Lorena, her eyes soft with affection, her mouth wide with love, and they knew who would be Miss Buckroe Beach of 1938.

When they called her name and she teetered out from the line of girls with their quivering smiles to slide under the shiny red winner’s sash, her grin was genuine, a twin to the grin of Della, who stood on tiptoe to applaud, her cast swinging wildly. And when the crown of paste and glitter was placed upon her head, Lorena felt as though time had stopped and she had been transported to another dimension, a realm of singular adoration where she would reign as queen.

Big bullying clouds eclipsed the sun as Lorena shone in all her royal splendor. It took the cosmic crack of thunder to startle her back to reality. Judges and audience disappeared in a rumbling stampede for shelter as a curtain of rain closed the show. Lorena remained alone on the platform, staring numbly at the suddenly vacant arena where just a moment ago she had been the star.

She felt the crown crumble like a cookie in her hair, now streaming water and sticking to her face. She looked down and thought she was bleeding. The red sash hung limply from one shoulder, the color leaching onto her new white bathing suit, mottling it with pink. The argyle socks bunched into multicolored lumps visible through the soaked-through fabric of the suit. Her golden moment had been reduced to a flash of glory, now just a memory seen through mascara-tarnished tears.

Later that summer, she relived her crowning moment when she saw The Wizard of Oz. Forever after, she identified with the good witch Glinda, who, glitter crown and all, ascended to the heavens in a bubble. In the theater, Lorena wept as she longed to recapture that feeling of enchantment, that magical moment that had eluded her ever since.

Selected Works

Novel: Fiction
“Entertains as surely as a parallel-universe episode of Ozzie and Harriet.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review
Essay
How I Spent My Summer Vacation
A last visit to a childhood home.

Quick Links

Find Authors