Last Night at the Telegraph Club

by Malinda Lo

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Last Updated on October 4, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 888

Chapter 10

While Lily and Shirley are looking through job brochures, Shirley tells Lily that someone has left the dance committee and asks Lily to take up that role. Later, Lily asks Shirley about the leftist youth group they had the picnic with. Both of them have been told by their parents to stay away, and Shirley says that she will, even though she likes Calvin. Among the pamphlets, Lily finds one about communism. Later that night, she reads it, but the phrasing of the exaggerated propaganda seems tempting rather than forbidding.

Chapter 11

At Thrifty’s Drug Store, Kath and Lily discover that the lesbian novel Lily found before has been bought. Hesitantly, Lily describes the two women falling in love in the book and asks Kath whether she has heard of anything like that happening. Kath says yes. They walk out onto the street, and Kath tells Lily that her friend Jean is attracted to women. After a man catcalls them, Lily takes Kath into the safety of Chinatown. 

Chapter 12

The two girls go get ginger ice cream in a shop. Lily asks Kath if she is going to the dance. They make a deal that Kath will come to the dance if Lily will come to the G.A.A., a girls’ sports club. After they agree, Lily shifts the subject to rockets, both model rockets and the real rockets she would like to see one day. She shares her plan for her future and what she knows about space travel. Kath is fascinated. When they shake hands to confirm their bargain, Lily feels self-conscious about touching Kath. She wants to ask if Kath is a lesbian, but she feels she can’t. 

Chapter 13

The dance committee prepares for the dance. While Lily sets up the refreshments, Shirley supervises the decorations. Early in the dance, people of all races mingle and socialize together. But when it is time for partner dancing, Lily notices, the students all pair off with someone of their own race. Watching the couples, she feels a sense of how things have changed since they were younger—now, some of her peers are in serious relationships. Lily sees Kath across the gym, and the two go outside.

Chapter 14

Though it is cold and Lily has no jacket, the girls walk to a nearby park. Kath offers Lily her jacket. Tentatively, Lily asks Kath about what it was like at the Telegraph Club. Though unsure how to describe it, Kath talks about seeing the women who are male impersonators and describes the mixed audience of tourists and local women. Lily really wants to go, so Kath offers to get a fake ID made for her. Given the situation with her father’s citizenship papers, Lily is hesitant, but she ultimately agrees. The two walk back to the dance.

Chapter 15

Shirley is surprised to see Lily with Kath and reproaches her friend for leaving the refreshments table. After Kath goes home, Shirley warns Lily that Kath is associated with queerness because of her friend Jean, who was caught with another girl in the band room the previous year. She tells Lily to stay away from Kath and advises her to dance with Will instead. But Lily rebuffs Shirley’s advice, and the two part ways.

Chapter 16

On Monday morning, Shirley does not wait for Lily to walk to school with her and sends a message with another friend that she will not do so. Walking to school with her brothers, Lily reflects on her friendship with Shirley. At school, she sees Shirley in a circle with other kids, possibly gossiping about Lily. Defiantly, she asks Kath to walk to class with her.

Chapter 17

With the G.A.A., Lily and Kath go to the bowling alley. Kath teaches Lily how to bowl. Lily feels uncomfortable, because the men at the bowling alley are leering at the girls. As she tries to stay focused on the bowling, Lily realizes that the bowling pins and ball operate according to Newton’s laws, just like the rockets she is fascinated by. Kath and Lily talk about what it would be like to go to the moon. They go back to bowling, protecting one another from the men’s eyes.

Chapter 18

Before school, Kath tells Lily that she has the fake ID. She gives it to her after school. Lily is a little troubled by the fake name and signature, but warms up to the idea quickly. At night, she tries to daydream about Tommy Andrews, the male impersonator at the Telegraph Club, but ends up reading a book about space. She dreams about operating a rocket.

Interlude: Joseph, Nine Years Earlier

Joseph and Grace take a night out on the town. They leave their kids with Shirley’s family and go to the Forbidden City nightclub. There are two meal offerings, American and Chinese, but the two go for the American option, because the Chinese food is not very authentic. Joseph is distracted by thoughts of his experiences during the war. Over the meal, he and Grace talk about the political situation with China and whether they will be able to visit Joseph’s family there. They watch the dancing show, and Joseph finds himself reflecting on how much he missed Grace while he was away in the military.

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