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Prudence in the Time of Prohibition

Prudence in the Time of Prohibition

By LeaSheryn

Prudence in the Time of Prohibition
A Story by Lea Sheryn
" Prudence is trapped in the home of her Prohibitionist parents. "

Prudence Mattingly was trapped; her life was not her own to decide. Growing up had been difficult for her. Her parents, strict Prohibitionists, kept her under the thumb of their rules. The home she was raised in was as plain as plain can be. There were no knick-knacks or photographs on the parlor mantelpiece or tables; no frilly tablecloths or curtains at the windows. Everything was designed to be useful; there were no playthings. Pru wanted much more from life than life had to offer her.

Never a strikingly beautiful child, she did not become any more charming as she grew up. Her hair was the dingy color of dishwater, her dark brown eyes too far apart, her mouth too wide and her nose…well, it was so large, it seemed like an unwieldy mountain in the middle of her face. Because of her strict upbringing, she had very few friends in her school days and even less boyfriends during the time leading up to her high school graduation. All the young men were attracted to the fragile young honeys who liked to flirt and tempt them into doing things they really wanted to do anyway.

After leaving school with no prospects on the marriage front, Pru went on to secretarial school. Sitting in the classroom with many other drab young women much like herself, she learned to type, take shorthand and be of general assistance to her future boss. Sighing, she propped her elbow on her desk then propped her chin in her palm. Feeling as though life had thrust a knife into her heart, her mind rebelled against fate. If she could change the world, she would be beautiful and witty like the rest of the girls she knew. Being unable to control the fates who made her who she was, Pru was forced to accept her destiny and get on with her life.

When the Eighteenth Amendment was ratified on January 16, 1919, Pru’s parents were overjoyed. The Temperance Movement they both wholeheartedly supported had won the day. It would force the country to stop indulging in immoral behavior and become a more sober nation. Although not prone to celebration, the best Mattingly china was on the dining room table that evening and there was a store-bought cake with ice cream for dessert.

While Edith and Edgar Mattingly were enjoying their moment of victory, Prudence kept her thoughts to herself. Although raised to abstain from drinking liquor, she had secretly tried a glass of beer in a corner barroom around the corner from her secretarial school. A few of the young women who were in her class invited her to join them during the lunchtime hour away from their typewriters; she had not been reluctant to accept the invitation. The foamy topped beverage was a delight on her unaccustomed tongue; she longed to have another one but Prohibition had sent in so there were no more chances of sneaking off to sample what was now forbidden not only by her parents but by the laws of the land.

With secretarial school behind her, Prudence Mattingly landed a job in the Mayor’s office. In her long brown tweed skirt, her plain cream-colored shirtwaist and trim jacket to match her skirt, she quickly came to the attention of the Mayor’s wife. Ever a jealous woman, Mathilda Everett often complained of the frilly young ladies her husband insisted on having as his secretaries. Storming into the main office with Pru in tow, she insisted she had found the perfect person to fill the recently vacated spot. The head man was reluctant at first but, with a lot of persuasion, finally agreed to accept his wife’s proposition.

Pru was a more than efficient secretary to the Mayor. She kept everything in good order and was prompt to respond when Oliver Everett called her into his office to take notes. Sitting before his desk with her knees tightly together beneath her tweed skirt, she was as proper and as prim as her name suggested. Intent on her job, her boss’s interest in her never entered her mind. Why would he ever be interested in her lackluster appearance anyway? Up to this time, no one else had ever shown her any manly attention. It took her by surprise to find him sitting on the desktop in front of her one early March afternoon.

“You could be a beautiful woman, Prudence,” Mayor Oliver Everett suggested as he took her chin in his hand and lifted her face until she could stare wide-eyed into his smiling face. “If you had your face made up and changed your wardrobe, you could be a delight to an appreciative eye.”

“Please don’t tease, Mayor Everett,” Pru responded, drawing back in order to release herself from his gaze. “I know I will never be beautiful.”

“On the contrary, my dear Miss Mattingly,” the Mayor responded in a serious tone. “We’ll fix you up and make you as lovely as any other woman. As a matter of fact, take the afternoon off. Go to the beauty salon and out shopping. On my tab, of course. Money is no object.”

Too stunned to say anything, Pru was hustled out of the office and into the hands of Miss Candice Kane, a charming young woman who dressed in the highest fashion of the day and a very intimate friend of the Mayor. All giggles and bright flashing eyes, Candy lead the way out of the office and into a nearby beauty salon. An hour and a half later, Prudence Mattingly emerged with a head of short platinum blonde hair and a face made up to enhance her best features and to decrease the appearance of her large nose. By the end of the afternoon, she was appareled in a flapper-style above the knee dress with tons of fringe all around. Silk stockings adorned her shapely legs and little white high-heeled slippers made her feel like dancing in the streets. Around her forehead lay a black strap with a long ostrich feather curling upwards. She certainly wasn’t the same drab young woman who appeared at the office that morning.

Mayor Everett showed his appreciation of the changes that had taken place over a few short hours. Pru drank in his compliments with the innocence of one who was unused to praise of any kind. Little did she know she was falling into the same trap many other young women before her had succumbed to. Her boss was a Lady’s Man of long standing. His affairs with other women stretched back to as far as the early days of his marriage to Mathilda; he knew how to charm even the most prim and proper with his smooth words of enticement. Pru fell for it all; lock, stock and barrel. She didn’t know how to evade such smooth advances.

That evening, she accompanied the Mayor to a Speakeasy in the basement of a hardware store on Main Street. Nudged on by her companion, she nervously uttered the password to enter to the proprietor. “To live without Gin is Torture,” Prudence whispered even though there were no other customers in sight. Silently a secret door slid opened behind the counter. Mayor Oliver took her by the arm and lead her down a steep set of wooden stairs. Stepping behind another concealed door, the magic of the secret barroom was revealed.

Pru had never dreamed to enter such an Aladdin’s Cave of Wonder. The room was packed with men and women, some of whom she recognized as members of her parents’ Temperance League, all with glasses of forbidden spirits upraised to their lips. The chamber echoed with loud uproarious talk accompanied with the rowdy laughter of those drunk on liquor and good times. Accepting the Martini her boss handed her, she followed him to an obscured table tucked into a far corner of the crowded room.

Oh how her eyes wandered! Everything seemed so spectacular to her. It was as if a long-hidden dream had finally come true. She was suddenly a part of the life she always wished for. Tempted by her boss, it was as though she had been transformed into Cinderella at her first ball. Leaning back in her chair and raising her Martini glass as high as her arm could reach, she made a toast to Speakeasies, Gin and to Oliver Everett. It didn’t occur to her, in that moment, that she was behaving far from her normal self. She was fully and happily ensconced into the lifestyle she had longed for all her life!

Suddenly the secret door burst opened, and the Speakeasy filled with police. “Raid!” someone shouted, followed by the hysterical screaming of women’s voices. Panic consumed the room as chairs and tables tipped over; glass shattered as people began to rush to find an exit. Pandemonium broke out as the Keepers of the Peace drew out their Billy Clubs to subdue the unruly mob. Pru felt a hand grasp her elbow as Mayor Everett pulled her through a sliding panel behind their obscured table. Within moments, they were in a dark back alley. Moving swiftly from alleyway to alleyway, they eventually emerged onto a side street where a black car was waiting for them.

Climbing inside the back of the car, Mayor Everett told the driver to get going before draping his arm around Pru’s shoulders and leaning back with her into the seat. “Not to fear, my dear,” he exclaimed in order to calm his shaken companion. “You are safe with me.”

Instead of showing fear, Prudence’s eyes sparkled with glee as a peal of laughter escaped her lips. The whole episode was more fun than anything she had experienced before. Grinning widely while patting his companion’s bared knee, the Mayor joined in with his own hearty merriment. Despite this young woman’s outward show of caution, she was as reckless as he was himself. He was delighted beyond measure.

It was mid-morning the next day by the time Prudence arrived at the Mattingly residence. Slowly she opened the front door and, carrying her white slippers in her right hand, attempted to tiptoe upstairs to her room. As her foot touched the first riser, her father’s voice called from the front parlor, “Get in here, young lady.” It was a command impossible to ignore.

As soon as she entered the room, her mother gasped as though in horror. Raising both of her hands to cover her mouth, the poor woman fainted, falling backward into her armchair. Her father, equally astounded, stared at his daughter with horror written all over his face. “How dare you enter this house looking like that!” Edgar Mattingly roared as he confronted the sudden changes to Pru’s appearance.

“It’s time I became my own woman,” Prudence declared as she squarely met her father’s eyes.

“Your own…!” Edgar was unable to finish his own sentence. His mind reeling, he thought about how carefully he and Edith had raised their only offspring; how she had always obeyed their every wish. Never thinking of her as her own person, he always considered her an extension of his wife and himself.

“My own woman, Father,” Pru responded, confident for the first time in her life. “I lived under your rules all my life and they got me nowhere. I’m a grown woman with my own income. You can’t hold me back another moment.”

“If that is the case, you can get out of this house and stay out.” Edgar’s face went from red to purple as he shouted his final words to his only child. His hard, cold heart closed to her as he understood she was beyond his control.

“Gladly!” Prudence yelled back, defying her parent for the first time in her life. Without so much as a good-bye to her mother who was just rousing herself from her faint, she exited her family home, slamming the door firmly behind her.

Returning to the Mayor’s office, she related the story of her departure from the Mattingly residence. Overcome with mirth, Oliver Everett arranged for Pru to move in with Candy Kane. He liked the idea of being able to visit the two young women he admired the most living in the same residence.

Life changed dramatically for Prudence Mattingly under the guidance of Mayor Everett and Candy Kane. With a new attitude to enhance her new wardrobe, she became a woman of the world. Never once did she look back at the restrictive home her parents had forced upon her. She was free to do as she pleased for the first time of her life and she took every advantage of it! And lived happily ever after.

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About This Story
9 Jan, 2022
Read Time
10 mins
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