Monday, October 17, 2011

Reginald Marsh's "Red Buttons", 1936

Today's post is something a little different. In a rash act, Caftan Woman signed up for Patti Abbott's flash fiction challenge to write a story of under 1000 words based on any painting by Reginald Marsh. Patti will donate $5.00 for every story submitted to Union Settlement, a social service agency in East Harlem serving 16,000 people, with a minimum contribution of $100. Check out Pattinase.

“Loretta. I really should be a Loretta. Like the actress with the big eyes. It’s a name with allure. Not like plain old Jean.”

“Very nice. How would your grandma Jean feel about you changing your name?”

“Easy. I’ll change her to Loretta too. After all, she’s been living with Jean a lot longer than me. She must be even sicker of it. I’ll get her dolled up in a dress just like mine with snazzy red buttons and won’t we be a sight?”

“You certainly will.”

“Gee, Mary, aren’t you a chatterbox today. It’s Saturday afternoon, we look fabulous, and you act like you’re going to the chair.”

“Oh, don’t mind me.”

“Oh, I don’t. I think you’ve been working too hard, that’s what. Old man Simpson is a slave driver and I’ll tell him so one of these days. He’s even wrecking our day off. Wally should have been here by now. Bill too.”


“Yes. Now don’t get mad. You said you didn’t want to come out because you felt like a third wheel so I told Wally to get Bill Hammond to come along.”

“I wish you and Wally wouldn’t discuss my personal life. And why Bill Hammond of all people?”

“What’s all this about personal life? We’re best friends, aren’t we? Besides, Bill Hammond is crazy about you.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes, really. I don’t know why you can’t see it. I can. I suppose it’s because I’m a woman in love. Gee, if I was working in Accounting with all those guys I’d have dozens of dates. Before Wally of course. The first time I laid eyes on that smile of his I knew he was the one for me. I wonder what’s holding the guys up anyway.”

“Probably something to do with setting up the new branch.”

“Gee, they’ve got all week to do that. It’s Saturday afternoon! Oh, Suzette!”


“Now that’s a name with real allure, French allure.

“Sure. For a French Poodle.”

“Oh, you. Everything is more alluring in French. Someday I’m going to go to Paris, and if I ever have a daughter I’ll call her Suzette.”

“Okay. You put an “ette” on anything and suddenly it’s French. You could put an “ette” on Jean, you know.”

“Jeanette! Like the singer. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to sing like that? Hey, you can be Mariette. Jeanette and Mariette out on the town.”

“Eating baguettes.”

“Ha ha ha – oh, I’m sorry, Mary.”

“What for?”

“I did that snort thing that happens when I laugh.”

“Yeah. You’ve done that since you were a kid.”

“Well, last week Wally and I were listening to Jack Benny and well, my snort thing really got on his nerves. Honestly, he’s been cranky as a bear lately. Have you noticed anything at work?”

“No. Why should I?”

“I tell you that old man Simpson is a slave driver.”

“Actually, Mr. Simpson is really nice.”

“Mary, really? Old man Simpson!”

“Now listen. This is important. Big news.

"Okay. I'm listening. What's the big news?"

"I’m taking a promotion.”

“Mary, that’s swell! Gonna be in the money, huh? Care to lend me a tenner?”

“Listen, I’m going to be the office manager at the new branch in Buffalo.”

“You’re moving?!”

“If a gals’ going to work, she might as well look for advancement.”

“You wouldn’t have to work if you gave Bill Hammond a tumble.”

“Oh, will you get off Bill Hammond! I want more. I want the challenge, the adventure.”

“Mary, most people leave Buffalo and come to New York for adventure. Aren’t you going about this a little backward? . I can’t believe you’re really going to move. I won’t believe it. Can’t old man – Mr. Simpson give you a promotion right here?”

“But, Jean, I want to go. I really do.”

“You want to go? Well, I don’t get this at all. Wally will have a thing or two to say about this.”

“Wally will have nothing to say about it! Look, Jean, it’s my life and it’s none of Wally’s business, or yours for that matter!”

“Mary, what’s gotten into you? I’m the best friend you’ve got. I have every right to…”

“Oh, forget it.”

“Mary? Honestly! Oh, Mary. Mary, you’re not…not you and…”

“Hey, there are my patiently waiting girls. Sorry about this and I have to get back, but here’s $5 for the afternoon and Bill and I will – hey, what goes on here?”


“Secrets? What kind of secrets?”

“Big secrets. Mary secrets.”

“Mary secrets?”

“Yes. Did you know that our Mary is really America’s greatest career gal? It’s true. She’s going to run the whole shooting match in Buffalo. She’ll probably be running the whole company before we know it. Imagine that. You think you know a person. Isn’t that a kick in the pants? And Wally, no one is going to talk her out of it.”


  1. I like this story very much. You've settled us right into the painting (and what a swell idea for a flash fiction challenge). I applaud your rash act and it's magnificent result.

    Will spend the rest of the day brooding about what might happen to Mary in Buffalo and why she's really going there.

  2. Ah, Jacqueline, you made my day. It's not my habit to eavesdrop on girls in paintings, but they would talk!

  3. Oh, this was a fun trip through the era in terms of movies and such. Love the fact this painting evoked such great dialog. Thanks so much for coming along.

  4. Patti, I appreciated the challenge and your altruism. Thank you.

    I've been enthralled with the entries and have discovered some fascinating new writers.

  5. Wonderful, C.W. And you did yours in dialogue too! AND with the same painting. Great minds think alike. Ha!

    I think the 'ette' girl has a thing going on with the big boss...

  6. Ah, the old movies! They really get under our skin, don't they? Nicely done. I love that you and Yvette both picked the same painting AND used the red buttons as inspiration AND wrote mostly in dialog. Amazing synchronicity at work.

  7. Yvette, it's fun to think how the painting inspired our two totally different scripts. There is a Disney extra on the "Sleeping Beauty" DVD that is a short featuring the Disney artists of the 50s. Their assignment was to draw a tree, and each one was different.

  8. I liked it, CW. It has humor and pathos, best combination of all. I had a similar experience with a girlfriend when I was young, and it's so hard to accept change. I did get a kick out of "I did that snort thing that happens when I laugh.” That happens to me too when I'm really laughing hard, and everybody laughs at me. It's OK -- I laugh too. Good job, CW!

  9. Thanks, John.

    Yes, the movies are a natural part of some lives and easily fit themselves into conversations.

  10. Becky! You're a fellow snorter? My family waits for it, and I try so hard to suppress it. It doubles up the laughter.

  11. Hey, CW...Who would you cast as Mary and Jean, if you were pulling from the classic film genre.
    From the google account formerly known as novabreeze :)

  12. H'm, wimseybynature, you are making me think.

    How about...

    Ruth Hussey as Mary
    Barbara Pepper as Jean ?



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