Ethel hated her name. She was born during the tenure of I Love Lucy. The beloved Ethel Mertz from the television show was the bane of the real life Ethel's existence. There were the jokes about her having to marry Fred. There was only one Fred in her high school class. He wasn't her type; not even if he was the last man on earth.
Ethel was every bit the epitome of her name. At five feet even her looks, dress and vocabulary mimicked the character she despised. Although she fought to break the stereotype her subconscious refused to relinquish the connection. Off to college Ethel chose a school as far away from home as her parents allowed. From Philadelphia, Pennsylvania she traveled to Portland, Oregon. Maybe three thousand miles would stretch the umbilical cord thin enough for it to break.
Scholarly days and studious nights bookended wild weekends. Ethel discovered her sensuality. Boys whose hormones ran miles ahead of logic saw past Ethel's frumpy exterior. As maturity blossomed her appearance changed. First Ethel's wardrobe lost its middle aged look. Then her moniker changed from Ethel to Etta. She discovered Etta Jones; her new heroine. The sultry tones of her combination of blues and jazz awakened something in Ethel's heart. Ethel toned her body through exercise and diet. Now trim and attractive Ethel was a new person.
Ethel's triumphant return home during winter break sent shockwaves through the household. Her parents were the first to notice. "Ethel you look, well, different!" Ethel's mother's voice betrayed protest.
"Mother you must have gotten those cataracts taken care of. I'm proud of you." The sarcasm wasn't lost.
"Is that what they teach you in college?" Her father's voice stern.
"Yes dad, they teach us how to be sarcastic but most of all they teach us to be honest." Ethel folded her arms across her chest. "So how are you?" Ethel hugged her father catching him off guard. His tepid response reinforced what Ethel already knew; her parents were not going to be keen on her.
After an hour of reconnecting Ethel was ready to get out of the house. "I'm going to visit friends. Don't wait up for me." Before her parents could protest she was out the door.
"Was that our daughter? Franklin I'm concerned about her. I don't like what school's done to her." Marjorie stared at her husband hoping he would make it all better.
"She's a young girl. She needs to find her way. We can't keep her down if she wants to rise like the morning sun." Franklin's strength hid trepidation. "We need to encourage her. She's still fragile and could break. We don't want her to be like us. We want her to be a worldly woman so she can make her way." Franklin picked up the newspaper focusing on a front page article.
Marjorie refused to let her husband have the final word. Franklin knew exactly when to throw in the towel, raise the white flag, call a truce. After thirty years of badgering he knew when to quit. He was finished while Marjorie was just oiling the gears. Pushing herself out of the easy chair Marjorie trundled past her husband whose attention was captured by the newspaper article. Lazy toad, never wants to get involved. I guess I'll have to do all the work as usual. Marjorie made her way into the kitchen where she fixed a cup of tea. She stopped offering to her husband when she stopped having respect for him. With the mug between her cupped hands Marjorie contemplated the loss of her only child.
Etta strolled into town; just a half mile walk. The town was everything she remembered. Not much had changed in the six months she had been away. Finding the local sports bar she wandered in. The atmosphere was thick with cigarette smoke, the smell of stale beer and loud music. This place had been the start of her metamorphosis. When she was still plain old Ethel she would come here hoping some guy would pick her up. Her bubble burst every time. She vowed this night would be different.
As she approached the bar several heads turned. She recognized them. She wasn't sure they recognized her. Two men moved aside allowing her access. The beer bottle felt cold against her sweaty palms. Suddenly nervous Etta scanned the bar as the two men closest to her sized her up. One of the men introduced himself. Etta remembered seeing him several times. He looked past her on those occasions. Pondering her response Etta considered ignoring him but thought better of it when he offered his seat.
Music blared from the speakers making it hard to talk. The former seat holder leaned his head towards Etta announcing himself as Pete. They continued to talk in close proximity. Etta wished Pete would kiss her yet she was unsure how she would respond. When he finally attempted intimacy Etta allowed it. Slipping an arm around her Pete claimed his prize. He focused attention on wooing her out of the bar and eventually out of her clothes.
As the evening wound down the crowd thinned. Pete whispered promises. Etta listened, allowing the excitement of anticipation to tease her. When Pete offered a ride she accepted. Ceding control to him she knew where the road would end. As he drove she considered the outcome if she led him on without giving it up. It wouldn't be the first time she surrendered nor would it be the first time she refused to go all the way.