Last Night at the Telegraph Club

by Malinda Lo

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Last Updated on October 4, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1003

Chapter 30

On December 30th, Lily and Kath meet on their usual corner. They talk about Christmas and reflect on how strange it is that no one else knows about this part of their lives. At the club, they encounter Claire and Paula. Sitting with them again, they toast the New Year with cheap champagne. After Tommy’s set, Lana comes over and orders martinis for the table. All the women gossip about the risks of being a lesbian in the current political situation. The jovial way they talk about these frightening matters confuses Lily. Later, Lana invites all of them, including Lily and Kath, to a party at the apartment she shares with Tommy.

Chapter 31

Kath asks Lily to come to the bathroom with her and confirms that Lily does want to go to the party. After Tommy’s second set, they walk over to Tommy and Lana’s apartment. It is crowded, and Lily finds it somewhat dizzying. Kath brings Lily another drink. Once again, Lily receives frustrating questions about whether she speaks English. Party chatter leads to a discussion of the Forbidden City nightclub in Chinatown, which once also had male impersonators. 

When Kath gets up to get another drink, one of the women asks Lily how long she and Kath have been together. Lily denies that they are but is troubled by the question. Excusing herself to the bathroom, Lily wanders into Tommy’s room. Tommy finds her there, asks her about her age, and nearly kisses her, though she ultimately refrains. Then Tommy, too, asks about Kath and Lily. 

Chapter 32

Back in the main room, Lily tells Kath that she has to go. They thank Lana and leave the party. A troubled Lily wanders in the wrong direction. Kath pulls her back and asks what happened. Haltingly, Lily admits to her feelings for Kath. Kath pulls Lily into a nearby alley, and the two kiss there. 

Chapter 33

Shirley and her friends, including Lily, gather at a shop in Chinatown so they can walk over to shop for Shirley’s pageant dress. Waiting in the shop, Lily sees a small toy airplane, which she buys for Kath. She notices a “pledge of loyalty” to America on the shop wall and reflects on what it means.

Chapter 34

The four girls go to Macy’s. Imperiously, Shirley sends Lily to ask an employee where the dressing rooms are. When she does, Lily realizes that the salesperson is Paula, looking and acting totally different than she does at the Telegraph Club. By a mutual silent agreement, the two show no sign of recognizing one another. Inside the dressing room, Lily is uncomfortable watching Shirley change, even though she has done so many times during their childhoods. 

Chapter 35

Back at school, Kath and Lily have a coded exchange. Then they walk home together and talk about when they were first attracted to each other. Kath tells Lily that she wants to kiss her again. The two make a plan to get into a lockable storage closet at school. Sneaking off together is frightening because of the potential consequences if they get caught, but to Lily and Kath, it will be worth it. They kiss again in the closet, choosing each other over the outside world.

Chapter 36

Later that week, Kath pulls Lily aside to tell her that they can get into a lockable classroom next week. On the weekend, Shirley calls Lily to tell her about a change of plans: while Lily had intended to go to her father’s hospital to sell raffle tickets, she no longer needs to. Lily calls Kath, but no one picks up, so Lily goes for a walk. Beyond Chinatown, Lily sees a diverse range of people on the streets. Then she spots Shirley, who is with Calvin. Neither of them sees Lily. 

On Wednesday, Kath and Lily meet in the deserted, lockable classroom. They kiss, and the kissing builds to more. Afterwards, Lily feels a great tenderness towards Kath. 

Chapter 37

At Shirley’s house, Lily and their other friends watch Shirley, dressed in her evening gown, practice her speech. The others praise Shirley’s speech and tell her she will win. When Shirley directly asks Lily what she thinks, Lily forthrightly says that winning depends on the raffle tickets, not the speeches. The other girls are shocked, but Shirley grudgingly appreciates Lily’s frankness.

Chapter 38

After waiting for her sick younger brother to fall asleep, Lily sneaks out to the Telegraph Club again. Kath has already left the corner, but Lily meets up with her at the club. The two kiss in the quiet hallway. 

There is a sudden noise and flashing lights, and someone announces that the club is being raided. The women begin to flee. Kath rushes back for her coat, which has her real ID in it. At Kath’s urging, Lily runs away. Outside, she sees some of the women being arrested, but she doesn’t see Kath. She keeps running, all the way back to her parents’ apartment. She makes it in just in time to give her father the impression that she has been up in her bedroom, unable to sleep because she is sick.

Interlude: Judy, Three and a Half Years Earlier

Judy and Francis take their nieces and nephews to Playland, an entertainment area at the beach. One of the attractions there is the Opium Den, a caricatured group of automatons meant to imitate Chinese people. It horrifies Judy and Lily alike. Instead of staying at Playland, the two walk down to the beach. Judy reflects on her recent painful experience of having a miscarriage, which she feels guilty about. As they walk on the beach, she has flashbacks to some of her experiences during the war. When they meet up with the boys and her husband again, Judy has a feeling of déjà vu. Somehow, it gives her comfort to think that in another world, all this has already happened, and so was fated to happen here.

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