The Hot Girl III – Special Instance Backstory 2.5

Someone posted recently about “can you write on demand?” I answered “yes” because as a professional in another industry I have known editors and performance critics and art directors who throw things out, or back, with the expectation that something “creative” will be done, or enhanced, by their feedback. Since I was young. Two Hundred years ago. There was no followup to flowers in the sink. But LP posed a question of sorts, that made sense. Loose ends. Talk about draft mode…

Jackson’s Apartment – Wednesday, February 15, 1978

Jackson opened the door of his apartment, found Deanna studying in the same chair as always at his fake slate topped dining table, only she was behind a vase full of crazily arranged yesterday’s sink toss flowers and a stack of three books. Plus an open one and an open notebook, all facing the right direction to be used and useful.

“Card’s on the bed, Jax. Sorry.” She pushed her glasses up into a hair band for her wet hair. “I came back and fixed the flowers last night. Once a year, you know?” She tapped the vase with her pencil. “I don’t do very good. Where’d you go?”

“The city.” The vase got a glance and very tight smile. Deanna perpetuated her mom’s ‘no dead flowers except Valentine’s and anniversaries’ rule, only without Mom Jean’s eye for composition. “I dropped a load at Next Time Around. Went to Glenn’s. He made me smoke something with a name that sounded like a Mexican resort, then made me listen to Reggae all night like I’d never heard it and didn’t know how easy the guitar solos were until I passed out on the couch. I woke up with a cat that Stacey talked him into keeping rubbing its ass on my nose, bashed my leg on his coffee table, beat the speed trap south of town and made it to my eight-thirty.” He checked the clock on the stove. “Two-forty and everything still smells like cat butt, mixed with shampoo.”

“He didn’t make you do anything.” She closed a book and notebook, opened another of each. “Why do you hang out with people like that?”

“Glenn’s okay. You don’t like him, but Stacey does. Now that he’s finally got his accounting degree.” He rubbed his eyes, yawned. “She’ll be a VP at Morisé when Amanda finally puts all her Dad’s shit in one bucket. Amanda likes him, too, so he can’t be that bad.”

“He is that bad, they just can’t see it. He’s way older than you are, and he may be an accountant, like finally after forever, but he’s still that fake-y charm guitar player guy he always has been. And you could say ‘when Amanda completes her father’s partnership acquisitions’, not when her dad’s shit’s in a bucket.”

“He’s eight years older than we are. The same age as Stacey and Amber and Bev.” He pulled his sweater over his head, sniffed it, backhanded it into the bedroom. “How about, ‘Little and much will change, my love, quand la merde est réunie, oui’?”

“You do that to everybody, Jax. Yesterday I was stealing your stuff in a country song and now you’re making up fake French like Alix said something about shit in a bucket. She wouldn’t do that. Alix is like a legal and business genius who went to five or six colleges in four countries. And lady geniuses don’t talk like that. Really, they don’t.” She absently tapped a women’s world lit anthology without looking at it. “I know.”

“What she said, in French, was ‘when the shit is joined together, yes?’ If cussing is the barricade against genius you’re sunk down here in Dumbassville with the rest of us, D.” He laughed, headed for the bedroom, pulled off his t-shirt on the way. “I need a shower. How long have you been out?”

“A while. Asshole.” She leaned over the table, tried to follow him with her eyes. “Aren’t you going to read your card first?”

“It waited a day. It can wait till I don’t stink.” He knew she wanted to throw something, grab her books and slam the door again but she was entrenched in her studies, with wet hair, in one of his shirts and probably nothing else. He’d take a shower, bust on her for re-using the only Valentine’s card she’d ever bought him with an added line, and he’d ask why, and she’d say she couldn’t buy him cards “because, alright?” Happy recycled Valentine’s Day. Yesterday. Sorry.

If this Wednesday turned out like all the Wednesday’s lately, Deanna would take over his bathroom for half an hour bitching and dialing in her hair and be in her advisor’s office from four-thirty until the regally tall, twig thin, nasally, outright hostile distaste for him Dr. ‘Cruella DeVille’ Eckden cut her loose, starved, at almost ten. Deanna, her head full of whatever they were putting together, would drive past the Feathers and Fins drive-through, walk in the door of his apartment, drop her books on the floor, fall on the couch and tell him what an angel he’d be if he’d go get her a chicken sandwich, no mayo or mustard or any of that. From Feathers and Fins.

He’d go. Get a fish sandwich for himself and some extra fries, stop at the 7-11 on the way back and buy a nearly frozen beer from the pink, bulbous blonde woman who talked with an accent full of “echhh” and “awkkk” like she was trying to clear a wad of snot from her throat. He stuck his hand in the shower to check the temp. Still cold. Dammit, D‘A while’? Three minutes? He dropped his forehead into the crook of the arm that held him to the wall, the wet hand dripped cold water on his foot. What had fucking happened?

 

 

 

The Hot Girl III – Backstory 2

The Date Header will tell you this is three years downstream from the last one. Deanna and Jackson are living together in college, with two apartments. Raise your hand if you’ve been there. Deanna has grown, but feels caged by who she wants to be and the perceived control exerted over her by her mentors and even her boyfriend. All of whom are as confused as she is. Welcome to the 1970s.

October 4th, 1977

Deanna licked the big brown envelope full of papers, including a forged letter of recommendation from Amanda Morisé, on October fourth. She drove to the post office and watched as they put the express postage for England on it that she paid for with change from the over-sized mason jar on Jackson’s kitchen counter. Followed the envelope with her eyes and bit the tip of her tongue when the clerk tossed it offhandedly into the international bin.

“It’ll be okay, right?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“I mean that address is kind of weird. You know where it is and everything? Even in England?”

“Yes ma’am. England has been doing this longer than we have.” The post office lady swept the last of the counted change into her drawer.

“Well, they forget stuff. Like who built Stonehenge and all that. And that was enough, you know, to make it sure it gets there by the fourteenth?”

“Yes ma’am.” The counter lady dusted her hands from the change counting. “Plenty enough.”

Deanna stood, nervously chewing her lower lip, unable to leave the counter.
“Sure? I mean it. Really. Cross your heart?”

Counter lady gave Deanna a “beat it, little girl” look and said, “Next in line, please.”

November 2nd, 1977 – C.A. Morisé

A letter from the office of Student Records, Newnham College, Cambridge University arrived in the mail bin at Seventeen Hundred Oilman’s Bank Tower, addressed to Celeste A. Morisé. Amanda had never gone by Celeste as far as anyone knew, and never touched mail outside of legal, project management or finance that a department head hadn’t found worthy of her attention. The intern working in Public Relations and Marketing made a judgement call and pencil punched her boss’s extension.

“Hey, Stace. Cambridge wants to know if Ms. Morisé really knows Collings.”

“Cambridge, as in Ye Old-y-ier than moss and Collings as in Deanna?”

“Yeah, her. Deanna Christine, Not D.C., not Diva, not Bit —”

“Valerie?”

“‘Check the box and sign for verification. Please update your Alumni profile.’”

“Sounds like something Amanda set up. Check it, signature stamp it, pull Amanda’s latest headshot and bio. Send them a slick, not a Xerox. Impress them, overnight it. ”

November 11th, 1977

Another letter with English postage landed in Deanna’s flimsy apartment complex mailbox with her Cambridge conditions enclosed. Cambridge wouldn’t accept Deanna’s accumulated credit hours as transfer, but as a distinguished and generous alumnus had given her a reference letter, as well as many of her professors, and with consideration of her excellent academic and public service service and performance thus far, if she wanted a first undergraduate with Cambridge on it she could obtain an affiliate student second under-graduate degree in two years or less with summer terms and working her ass off. She could then apply for specialized Masters of Philosophy degrees that ran full time nine month terms. She needed to graduate where she was before any of those conditions were valid. Which meant that she had to graduate by the middle of her junior year.

Already a full semester plus five hours ahead, she would meet with her professors, take exactly what she needed and whatever fluff she could get away with for elective hours. Her speech presentations at the national academic level carried a lot of weight, and the horny congressman she’d met at one of them would have his cute but uninterested aide write her a letter. And all the other people she’d met on the academic presentation circuit would write her more letters. Her counselor had said she knew a way to make those speeches and presentations eat up more credit hours on paper. She crossed her fingers. She’d start on Cambridge’s conditions in January of her sophomore year, a week after her annual vacation with her parents ended. She dove headfirst into academic Supergirl and tuned everyone out, including Jackson, unless she needed them for something.

It became evident to everyone involved in the inner circle of the “it could and should be a women’s world” presentations by D.C. Collings that the D.C. Collings project had hit a wall. Deanna refused to spend time on research and only spit out well formed, perfunctory, passionless essays from material fed to her by Amanda and Alix, then proofed and assembled by Stacey. If they were they foolish enough to suggest an edit she argued with them like changing a word would throw the planet off its axis. Because done was done, she had other things on her mind. And the threat of going mega bitch kept them out of her way.

Except for Jackson, who claimed to be genetically mega-bitch proof and still rehearsed her like it mattered. If she tried to hide he’d find her. She’d scream at him when he stopped her, made her think about what she was doing, and he’d open the door while they waited for the cops because the old lady across the hall would call them every time. Deanna would finally acquiesce because Jackson might be an asshole for doing it, but when they were done she got that incredible high she always got when he’d helped her find the center of her voice.

Otherwise it didn’t matter that she had no life. Jackson had been a total asshole since the scuba instructor incident after Christmas their freshman year, and just shut her out after she’d set off the fire alarm to escape a porn loving perv masquerading as a ski instructor’s “fuck shack.” The timing couldn’t have been better, really. No extended “boyfriend” duties except sex when she felt like it. He helped her study and took care of her daily reality details and played on weekends while they passed each other in his apartment like strangers and she built her stacks of credit hours.

***

Jackson’s apartment, Tuesday, Valentine’s Day 1978

Deanna had daydreamed her way through most of the day. The latest letter from Cambridge agreed to her academic plan, asked her to please submita  final semester schedule when available, Newnham College was looking forward to being her new scholastic home. She heard Jackson unlock the door and panicked. Valentine’s Day. No card. She dropped a medium sized anthology on top of the Cambridge envelope and pretended to read.

Jackson tossed a card on the round, fake woodgrain Formica table in the “dining nook” of his rented-it-furnished, one-bedroom college apartment. The card skidded under an upside down open book Deanna was pretending to read that partially covered a manila envelope.

“Happy Valentine’s Day.” He set the wet waxed paper cone wrap full of flowers beside her. “You never take a vase to your place so you can pull one you like from under the sink. That a good book?”

“Mmm hmm. Multiplicity. English Renaissance.”

“Cool. ‘For thee watch I, whilst thou dost wake elsewhere,
From me far off, with others all too near.’

“Where did you get that?”

“Willy’s Sonnet Sixty-one. I go to college, too.” He tapped his temple with his index finger. “Reminded me of your vacations, so I stored it.” He leaned against the kitchen counter, folded his arms. “Are you going to tell me where you’re going, what’s going on? Or will it be like some country song where I wake up one morning with a hangover and you and my truck and my stereo and my dog are gone?”

“Nothing is ‘going on.’ You shouldn’t quote Shakespeare out of context and then make up things about me stealing stuff in some gross country song. Anyway, I don’t understand your stereo and you don’t have a truck or a dog. I told you, the ski instructor was a horny old man and I had no idea that his idea of training films were really gross porn. And all of your shit about the huge bed I told you about is way old. Old, old. He was showing me his house, that’s all. At first, anyway. That bed was so cool, Jax, and I thought if you had one we…Never mind.”

“Must have been a pretty ‘hot’ bed. That ‘tour’ cost your dad two hundred bucks for you setting off a false fire alarm.”

“Shut up. They shouldn’t have done that. That asshole tried to show me butt sex movies instead of skiing movies and I couldn’t get out and I was scared and that was the only way. Can I study now? Please?”

“I heard it helps if you turn your glasses over if you want to read an upside down book.”

He took two steps, reached out, yanked on the Pier One beaded curtain that separated the “dining nook” from the “living area” and it came down, brought the staples he’d put it up with and bits of popcorn ceiling with it.

“Dammit, Jax. What was that all about?”

“About time.”

“You’re being really stupid. About what time?”

“About time to take this place back to neutral. Too much of me in here.”

“It’s your apartment, Jackson.”

“Yeah? Tell me again why you have one?”

“Why are you being such a dick? I really need to study. Keeping my apartment keeps mom out of my shit. You know that, so, okay?”

He stuffed the beaded curtain in a paper bag, rolled the top down. “I thought it was so you had someplace to go when all the secrets and lies start stinking this place up like forgotten broccoli.”

“Fuck. You.” She slapped the upside down book closed, picked it up along with her unopened card and her letter, threw her empty Seven-Up can at the sink. “It wasn’t my fault, alright? I’ve told you a hundred times, I didn’t go to his stupid ‘fuck shack’ to be his little ‘fuck bunny’ no matter what you think or say. He was supposed to teach me how to ski. Ski. S-K-I. That’s all. I didn’t know about the rest. Thanks for fucking up another afternoon with all that.” She slammed his door behind her.

“Forgot your flowers.” He leaned against the kitchen counter, heels of his hands on the counter top. He hadn’t said a word about the horn dog ski instructor until she decided that was the conversation they were having. It didn’t matter. She would have picked one from the half dozen or so she had banked instead of having one of any consequence. He tossed her flowers in the sink beside the green can, pushed the stopper down and ran some water in the sink. If they were still there in the morning he’d toss them.

In just over an hour he’d pulled all of his posters and tapestries and gathered up all of his other college guy junk off the walls, shelves and counters of his apartment, rolled and rubber banded or folded them and tossed them in the trunk of his car. The hippie chick at the used jeans and old hippie funk place in the city could sell them again. To somebody just like he’d been. A guy who thought he knew who he was, and knew what he thought was funny or important, what kind of music he liked. Who knew what he wanted to be just before he grew up a little and found out it wasn’t a fairy tale after all, and nobody really gave a shit one way or the other. Including the girl who was supposed to.

The Hot Girl III – Backstory 1

Okay. Friday again. Hot as Hell. Moved bricks and bags of premixed cement in 108. I’ve stalled long enough, this is me in draft mode. I’ll kick off THG III with some backstory on THG herself, Deanna Collings.  As D.C. Collings, Deanna, under the mentoring of Amanda  Morisé with performance coaching and coaxing from Jackson, is working toward her dream of “Elegant Hell in High Heels” as the young, angry new voice of feminism. She’s also a girl who is pissed off and confused about a lot of things. When reading through this, one should pay attention to the date headers until, coming soon, they all flow without this backstory business. Enjoy. This is chapters of a novel, a real coming of age fairy tale, so settle in. Unless you don’t like it, in which case you are free to leave.

Early July, 1974

Deanna’s summer job with Jackson, Amber the blonde hippie law-schooler from Morisé and the college football player named Bodine who was going to be an architect when football was done, all of them doing architectural reclamation together for Morisé’s Redevelopment branch, was dirty and dusty and hot. Working with the three of them was the only place Deanna had ever felt truly equal. Unlike her old head cheerleader job where she was the younger, sweet public face for a bunch of oversexed stoners, here she was a real part of the team. They sweated together and cussed together. Wore the same kind of work shirts and jeans and gloves and boots. Bodine included them all in every stage of the deconstruction and salvage of old buildings from picking and planning to pry-bars and sledge hammers. She even got badge of honor stitches in her right ring finger, complete with a run to the emergency room and a tetanus shot the day they’d all wrestled a giant mahogany bar out of an old downtown basement watering hole that had fallen victim to urban renewal.

Amanda had come to the site the next day, crossed her arms the way she did and said the bar was too big for anything but a resort hotel or a country club looking to drop in some old pub ambiance, and would be in storage long before it sold or Morisé found use for it in a development, get rid of it. But Jackson shucked and jived with her, made her laugh, said it was “too cool” to waste, and if nobody wanted it he could sell it to a guitar maker. Maybe. Or turn it into several kitchen islands, or a staircase, or badass cases for home electric pianos. Maybe. Or build his dream house around it someday. Maybe. Amanda shook her head, waved Jackson off and told Bodine to have the bar hauled to the salvage warehouse, but not until she got a picture of Deanna resting her bandaged hand on top of it. The picture would go in a frame at 1700 Oilman’s Bank Tower where “girls kicked ass and got shit done.”

Deanna started to get in Jackson’s business for dissing Amanda with his stupid musician BS and dragging a bar into their future house, realized they weren’t married, or living together, and hadn’t even…well, you know…and decided at least that part needed to change.

Wednesday July 28, 1974

Bodine and Amber sat on old, used to be built-in under-counter filing cabinets wedged into the rubble that covered the parking lot of what was once a four story 1919 hotel. They held partially unwrapped half-eaten sandwiches in their hands and were talking about Bodine’s fiance the nurse. Deanna crunched her way over the brick and mortar crumbles, waited until they paused for a bite of sandwich.

“‘Scuse me…But tomorrow?” Deanna squatted by Bodine. “After lunch…You said we’d be finished with the windows?” Deanna had no problem with giant, NFL bound college jocks because her brother was one. She did have trouble asking for favors.

“Well…So could I…I mean if I go, and don’t come back, like on time, or at all…”

Bodine knitted his eyebrows, leaned his head forward a little. “Huh?”

“I mean, and maybe Jackson too…If we…”

Bodine sat up, sandwich wrist on his knee. “Collings, what the —”

“Deanna, let’s take a walk.” Amber floated behind Bodine, grabbed Deanna’s hand and led her off around the side of the building and out of earshot.
“What’s going on, Baby Morisé? A concert I don’t know about? A Thursday special matinee?”

“Um…” Deanna looked over Amber’s shoulder, studied the old masonry work.

“No. I…Well, Beverly said that if I wanted to…You know…With Jackson? ‘Cause we’ve been…We are…That I should rent a really cold hotel room and…Well, I don’t know what the rest is. But…”

“But you ‘want to’.” She smiled and made finger quotes. “You want it to be special and it almost happened somewhere that wasn’t, and you think Beverly knows all about the ‘right way’ to lose your virginity?”

“Well. Yeah. Kinda. I mean it seems like I’m sorta late, you know, and not to be rude or anything, but, well she has done it, a lot I think. And she’s engaged, so…And you’re all cool and California and everything and the Lady Godiva ride…”

“The Godiva ride wasn’t about sex, it was a statement. Like what you’re doing with Amanda and Jackson.” She studied Deanna’s face full of questions. “Is this your idea or his? Because at Morisé we don’t take our cues from men.”

“No…It’s me. I don’t know anything, really. I mean it. But…Well, I want to. And he seems to know…stuff.”

“I’ll bet he does. I’ll have Bev book you into the Sheraton North, the new one with the view, and have them open a room for you early. Leave here for an appointment around ten thirty, one that requires Jackson to drive you.”

“That’s it? I mean what about Bev, and Amanda paying for it and Bodine —”

“Bev has the hotel and Amanda, I have Bodine. All you need to do is pack your lunch box with bubble bath and some body lotion and whatever you want him to see you in before he takes it off for you, and a perfume neither one of you will forget. When you get there make him shave and take a shower, put on one of their giant robes and wait for you while you take a bubble bath that lasts as long as you want.”

“And then?”

“And then?” Amber stuffed her hair back in her hardhat. “That’s when you write your own story and forget about asking me or Bev or anybody else what to do.” She put her hand on Deanna’s shoulder before she walked away. “Does Jackson know?”

Deanna shook her head.

“Good. I wouldn’t give that guy time to think about it or you’ll be in there three days.”

***

Northside Sheraton, July 29, 1974

Jackson leaned on his left elbow, dragged his right little finger lightly over the small scar that followed the line of Deanna’s hip V just to the left of center, inside bikini bottom territory. “What’s with the scar?”

“Hmmm?” She bumped his elbow out from under him, snuggled into his shoulder and rolled her hip up.

“The scar. What happened?”

“Hernia. I told you.”

“Did it hurt? How’d you —”

“I told you forget it, okay?”

“I was just —”

Drop it. I mean it.” She rolled away from him onto her left shoulder and yanked the sheet up.

“I had a hernia, when I was little. Too little to know. But they fixed it. Wanna see?”

“NO.”

“Come on. Before anything grew in down there it looked like an elephant winking at me. Seriously. I used to stand in front of the bathroom mirror and try to get the trunk to raise up so I could make “brrrr rappp” elephant trumpet noises.”

“You are so disgusting.” She rolled up, pulled her robe on. “I thought we’d…and it would be…and you have to ruin it.” She stomped off to the big fourteenth floor window and stared out. “Godammit, Jackson.”

“Hey,” he’d pulled on his robe, untied, put his arm around her from behind. “Sorry. I didn’t —”

“Was I okay?”

“Huh? This isn’t a —”

Was I okay?” She’d ramped up the demand in her voice.

“Yes. Yeah…Unexpected, but great. Why all —”

“Not weird, or, or gross or…” She turned inside his arm and into him.

“No. Deanna, what’s the prob here?”

She dropped her forehead onto his chest. “Did you mean it? About forever?” She looked up, eye to eye. “Love is one of the big words, Jax.”

“I never heard of anyone being labeled sesquipedalian for ‘love’. That was a fifty center, if you’re counting.”

She smacked his robe covered arm. “Honest? You had to mean it.”

“Deanna, I meant it, okay? What’s —”

“It’s all messed up, and gross, I know it is. They messed it all up.”

“They? They who? Nothing was messed up or gross. You’re…” He scrambled through the lyrics of a four hour set, plus a wedding set and then some for the right words. “Angelic. Virginal.” Both made it out without any hint of question.

“Shut up, I am not. You don’t know.”

“I’ll never know if you —”

“Just don’t ever ask me about the scar or me down there, ever. I had a hernia and it, they…Messed everything up. I know they did. So promise? Never, okay? Just forget about it. Please? Promise?”

“Yeah. Okay.”

“Promise about everything?”

“Yeah…” He’d never seen pleading in her eyes, or heard it in her voice, but he wouldn’t forget it.

“Good.” They stood in the window, flashing the world for a few. She kissed him, hard, reached down. “What was that noise the elephant made?”

***

Deanna hit her soft snore and jarred Jackson out of a daydream, the two of them sitting on a bench somewhere…Palm trees. He rolled his shoulder out from under her, shrugged on his robe. He started to pull the covers up, stopped. He bent, brushed his lips on her scar. It wasn’t very big, for all the huge deal she made of it. And nature, left to it’s own devices, would have it hidden a week after bikini season was over. He pulled the covers over her, shook his head. Secrets and scars. Crazy. But Deanna’s kind of crazy beat the hell out of working on Thursday afternoon. He kissed her again. She was even more beautiful when she was asleep. And quiet.

Don’t Talk To The Whores

Remember Jackson from Fried Hog Poop? Here is my concept of narrative, getting him into his situation. Without pages of dense text.

Jackson rolled into the east side of Vegas on Easter Sunday, pulled the “Peeno Player Wanted” sign out of the window of a run down, rust and turquoise shit-hole motel called the Sea Wind. He took it in, offered it to the swarthy, bearded guy in the sweat stained white shirt who ignored Jackson and the sign he offered.

“Peeno player is me.”

“Yeah?” He gave Jackson’s hair a frown. “When this was?”

“I tried it once. Liked it. It’s my destiny.”

“Funny guy. You know songs people like? Last guy want to be Elvis. All time with the rollin rockin and everybody is babb-ee babb-ee babb-ee.”

“I thought being Elvis was mandatory in Las Vegas.”

“Maybe, babb-ee.” He squinted a little tighter at Jackson. “Me? I don’t like so much.”

“This is your lucky day because I don’t sing or do sing along.”

“Is good day for you, too, funny hairy guy because I think I’m liking you more, now. You have better clothes?”

“Like yours?”

Swarthy man raised one eyebrow like he’d practiced it a thousand times. “Peeno player only. Everywhere in Vegas?” He swept a thick, hairy arm in a wide arc, leaned over the counter into Jackson’s face, “I can find asshole who wants to be comedian.”

Swarthy showed Jackson some gold dental work, snatched the sign away from him and stuffed it in a wire basket full of paper. “I show you the place.” He flipped up the hinged counter, grabbed Jackson’s shoulder and turned him around. “First. Don’t talk to the whores. They waste your time to stay inside better air conditioner when should be working. You want to fuck one you pay the same for a room as anybody. If you cheapskate on me don’t fuck in your car where customer can see or they all start to do it. Shit happens that way I go broke in big hurry.” He pointed out the piano in a dim corner of a bar lit with red bulbs. “No blowjobs from under piano. Last guy banged hooker’s head on bottom, cost twelve stitches to me and too much talk to cops. Play what you want. Until customers ache their bellies to me and I fire you.” He turned, put a hairy finger almost on Jackson’s nose. “Don’t never play along with jukebox like Elvis guy.” He put on a pained face and silent scream and with both hands over his ears he tilted his head side to side. “Same shit different ways gives me headache,” he held his hands open wide around his head, “this fucking big.”

“When do I start?”

“When you put on long pants. And socks. You can wear bow tie, no shirt, I don’t care. But long pants. And socks.” Swarthy held out a foot clad in a black sock, encased in a Mexican Bazaar tire tread sandal that Jackson figured for a Sea Wind fashion statement.

“Right. Bow tie, long pants. Socks.”

“Good boy! Maybe you get hair cut sometime.” He lumbered back toward the office where two hookers stood in front of the door arguing over a room key that kept changing hands and left Jackson in the doorway between mildewed cool and the desert. From the Regent to the Sea Wind. But it wasn’t Taco Bell, and he wasn’t dead.

***

The Sea Wind sat right on the east edge of Vegas and the desert, so close the far north end of the parking lot faded into sand. It was a “plus tips” gig, and there weren’t many, and most of those were so he’d stop so someone could play the jukebox. The door was always open because the air conditioner was half-dead, flush the urinal in the men’s room and the plumbing groaned the soundtrack for The Exorcist and finished with a metal pipes thumping a Latin beat on sheetrock. The housekeepers called it the Hot Wind, Jackson called it the Breaking Wind. The lobby smelled a little like vomit, the tiny casino smelled a lot like cat pee, and he learned there was a stabbing every weekend. Usually on Saturday night. Usually in the doorway to the lobby. Usually about somebody not paying somebody else for something they shouldn’t have been doing in the first place. They wanted to charge him more to stay in a room than he was making, so for a week he slept in his car at the end of the lot where the sand started.

He drove around on his second Sunday in Vegas, looking for gas. He pulled into an ancient cinder block Mobil station because of the giant, metal sign featuring a Nineteen Forties cheesecake pin-up girl holding an oil can. He made friends with a guy named Michael who said he ran the ancient rust and cinder block station for his “lost inside his own mind Grampa.” They talked, drank a couple of almost frozen Nehi strawberry sodas from a cooler, moved on to beer.

Michael heard Jackson out, told him he could park his car inside and sleep in the service bay. Jackson took cold showers in the men’s room with the garden hose and hosed it down when he was done. Every now and then at the Sea Wind he could get into a room before housekeeping and take a hot shower, even though he was a little leery of what might be living in the plumbing. He shaved in the ladies room at the Mobil because it had a real mirror instead of the piece of bent chrome in the men’s room that made him look like one of those pictures of a kid, or a dog, that was all nose. Michael’s hospitality was Spartan but manageable. He was a little older than Jackson and had his own heartbreak story. And after about a week he was the first person to ever cast doubt on Jackson’s manhood.

Michael popped the kitchen match to life with his thumbnail. “She just got tired of you, man. She didn’t want to hurt you, you know.” He lit the joint, hit it solid but not too deep. “Didn’t want to call you pencil dick or nothin’. You were probably just a crummy piece of ass, girl had to roam.”

Jackson hadn’t even considered that. Didn’t want to, either. “Man, I’ve known girls who knew how to fuck. Crazy ass sex girls that ran me through the Kama Sutra and a couple of other books full of ideas. I never had any complaints before.”

“You ever ask her?”

“No.”

“Should have. Me, too, on that should have. We were engaged. She was a first-year third grade teacher, right here in Vegas. I came home and found a note on a Friday night sayin’ she’d run off with a textbook salesman from Baton Rouge.”

“If it’ll make you feel any better my dad used to say ‘There’s hell, and then there’s Houston. If the devil thinks you’re a miserable son of a bitch, there’s Louisiana.’”

“Never been anywhere but the desert myself. I hope she hates it. I used to hope he beat her, and if she came back? No more Mr. Nice Guy. But I couldn’t, you know, beat her or nothin’. Now I just hope she’s happy. Not too happy. Like his dick falls off and he can’t screw unhappy.”

“She tell you why she left, call you a pencil dick?”

“No. The note was the last of it.”

“‘Later, fool’ is a cold shot. You find a new girlfriend yet?”

“Nah. Hard to find one, even to have time to clean up and go lookin’. They got all the pussy, hold all the cards, man. Maybe Cinderella will pull in here one day, need a tank of unleaded and a self-service grease monkey.” He frowned, killed the joint between his thumb and middle finger. “Snowball’s chance in Vegas of that shit.”

***

 

Jackson couldn’t stop thinking about what Michael had said. Maybe he was useless, that way. Maybe if he’d tried some things on Deanna. Maybe some of what that girl welder and her Kama Sutra book and waterbed thought was fun, or some of Monica the waitress’s gymnastic sexual circus madness, Deanna might still be around. She made lots of noise all the time, though. The apartment neighbors would complain or beat on the wall, particularly on Sunday afternoons. Maybe it was just this Michael guy’s weed fucking with him. It didn’t work. He pulled the quilt out of his trunk, pulled out the bolt that held his passenger seat up, dropped it and passed out.

He dreamed of all the things he should have done with Deanna that she had someone else doing now. All of them laughing about him, how inept he was, what kind of pussy whipped idiot he’d been. She’d grabbed both sides of his face and pulled his head up. “Now,” she’d whispered through a kiss, before she pushed his face away to look at him. “Before I give you all of me, promise me you’ll love me forever. Please?” What a load of it.

At three in the morning he gave up on sleep, raised the service bay door and ran tepid water from the hose over his head. For lack of anything better to do he rotated his tires by hand under a sliver of moon that dared the puddles in the drive to last till morning.

Fried Hog Poop – No Charge For The Fold

Another “The Hot Girl -part 3” writing exercise casualty. Dialogue vs Narrative for backstory. Investment Alert – Long Read- almost 3k. Coffee or wine may be required.

Las Vegas – Mid-Summer 1979

Jackson loosened his red and gold silk bow tie and tried to clear his head of the endless piano bar requests for “After the Love Has Gone” before he stepped out the back door of the hotel kitchen with a couple of waiters. One male, one female, the three of them on their daily post-lunch-rush burn one and chill in the heat retreat.

The girl, Missy, was close to his age. Everyone called the guy Five-Oh because he dyed his hair, combed two-thirds of it back in a duck’s butt to cover the tanned or spray painted bald spot, left the front hanging greasy like Jack Lord from Hawaii Five-O. He could have been thirty or sixty. His sun spotted hands looked ancient covered in wiry, salt and pepper hair and they shook, wide and slow like a lazy blues vibrato when he passed the flat joints he carried in his wallet. He was weird, too thin and jumpy, probably a speed freak, but he knew somebody who grew killer, lime green hydroponic weed and he was loose with it.

Missy was too thin herself, wouldn’t talk to anyone but her customers. After her shift she changed into the same long, hippie-print tapestry skirt and a slightly dingy white, cap sleeve t-shirt, hit the joint with them and headed out the alley and west on foot. After a week of everything he said to her running into a wall, Jackson followed her. It felt like she was going to walk them to where the west side of Vegas met the desert if he didn’t stop her.

He caught up at an intersection, pulled out the first conversation starter he could find. “Nice bracelet. Indian?”

“I knew you were back there, space man. I missed the ‘walk’ light on purpose and waited up so we could bale this and stack it in the barn. I don’t need a boyfriend or a new savior or a better job or a better way or better sex or Avon or Amway or the New York City Sunday paper or anything you’re selling. Leave me alone.”

“I asked about the bracelet.” It was thin leather covered in beads and more of a cuff, almost like lightweight Indian biker wear, and laced on with orange yarn.

“Indian, yeah. I don’t know what kind. It was wide enough for what I needed, and the bead pattern was cool.” He thought she was going to bite a hole in her lip. “I lace it on and forget it. Thanks for caring. Gotta go.” She took off across the street without the walk light, dodged a couple of cars and kept on west. He watched for a minute, jogged in the heat all the way back to his car and drove west on Flamingo. He crossed under the interstate, saw her a quarter mile ahead. He rolled up in front of her, stopped and got out.

“This is stupid. Missy’s not your name, nobody’s really named Missy and nobody in Vegas nicked you with it.”

“I’m not from Vegas and it’s not your problem, is it?”

“I’m from bale it and put in the barn country myself. You don’t talk through your nose, and Missy is still bullshit.” He could see her frustration with him ramping up.

“Do you get away with this, wherever you’re from, talking to girls like we need to talk back and telling us it’s bullshit if we don’t? I told you —”

“You didn’t tell me anything, it’s hot as hell and you aren’t walking like you’re going anywhere. You can ride in the back with the tire iron like the last girl that got in my car, but get off your feet and outta the heat, tell me where you need to go.” They stared at each other for a few seconds. He drummed on the top of his car with his fingers while she fidgeted with the leather cuff. “Hey, I liked that one. Feet, heat.” She still wasn’t sold, but she let a quick, faint smile get out. He was gaining ground.

“What, now you’re some kind of prairie poet or something? I heard twang. Texas? Not tin can enough to be Okie.”

“Okie born and raised. But I’ve spent a lot of time getting it out of my nose and down into a drawl.”

“You’re not there yet.” She gave up another faint smile, crawled into the back seat. “Wow, baa-ad. The air conditioner in this thing works!”

He pulled away from the curb, had no choice but silence since his radio had been stolen, idled them out Flamingo in third.

“Nice hole you have in your dash.” She opened his back window a crack, lit a long, white filtered cigarette and blew “Kansas” out with the smoke.

“No Kansas without a tape player.”

“Me, you Okie clown. I’m from Kansas. Though where I lived? I could almost throw a rock and hit Oklahoma if I wanted.”

In the mirror he watched her make a face while she leaned, twisted, pulled a seatbelt buckle out from under her backside. “Now I’m living across town the other way in a runaway shelter, so you aren’t taking me ‘home’ anywhere around here, if that was your big ‘help Missy out’ idea.”

“Little old for that shelter, aren’t you? Twenty-two?”

She slapped the side of his headrest. “Good guess! Twenty-three. Twenty-four in August. They don’t check ID there, I don’t do hard drugs, and I wash my face with Noxzema to keep up my girlish looks. There’s girls in there not even fourteen look a lot worse than me. I hate the place, but it’s not coed, so it’s safe. Horny mixed up chicks I can handle. It’s horny, mixed up dudes I can do without.”

He checked her taking his temperature over that in the rear-view. “I’m starving. The no feed us rule at work sucks.”

“So does the food, space man. So really it’s like a benefit, you know? Them not feeding us.” She continued to watch him, his eyes keeping time between the road and her in the mirror. “They weigh that shit is why we don’t get to eat it. Every ticket gets a weight and they check it once a week to see who’s skimming. They even weigh those pans under the counter where they throw the fuckups away. The Mafia runs a way tighter ship than the Navy, that’s for sure.” She let the smoke and her mind drift a little, ashed her cig out the window. “I don’t eat much so it doesn’t matter to me. I walk all afternoon, drink a lot of water. My car’s broken, so I walk back to the shelter after dinner shift. They usually have some kind of chunks in macaroni. It’s slimy, but nice of them. And it keeps me from blowing away. But me and food. It’s just…” She watched the smoke curl, dropped the butt out the window, sighed and stared after it.

“I live on this end of town,” Jackson said to the mirror. “Out where they’re building houses. Not many restaurants yet. Not much of anything yet but apartments, stick framed houses not getting finished. The economy is what I heard. I was going to fix something easy. You can bring the lug wrench in with you.”

“You’re not dangerous, I picked up on that. Okie weird, maybe. I’ll come in ‘cause it’s hot, but I’m just gonna watch.”

***

Jackson made quickie stir fried rice with two Uncle Ben’s boil-in-bags, a bag of frozen veg, a couple of scrambled eggs and pepper. He set two bowls on the counter, grabbed Tabasco and soy sauce from the fridge. He splashed a bowl with some of both, forked the rice, shrugged approval. “I gotta do some laundry this afternoon.” He pointed to the main bedroom with his fork. “There’s all kinds of robes in the front bedroom. Take the tire iron when you’re done with the rice, toss your clothes out. No charge for the fold.”

All she could do was snort with her mouth full because he’d let that go without seeing it as a fantastic jest. “I can’t get stuck out here looking at a dinner shift with no clothes and some crazy Okie weirdo who hates radio. It’s not ever going to happen.” She spooned some more of the rice, shot the bowl of it with a generous dose of soy sauce and took it to the big front bedroom, yelled for him from inside. He ambled in with his bowl, watched her through the open double door on the closet while she slowly fanned through several dozen silk robes on plush hangers. She held a simple, long pink one under her chin, took three steps sideways to the full length mirror and whistled soft and low.

“Wowzer…” She hit the light switch that handled the atmospheric indirects, not the overhead “work” lights. “Will you look at that…How the hell do you live here on the piano bar, space man?” She leaned forward, slowly turning her head to take it all in. “Just being in this bathroom has to be a sin. What’s with all the clothes?” She caught a glimpse of both of them in the wall to wall mirror, blushed. “And the perfume and all these lotions and make up?”

“Office supplies.”

“Yeah?” She hung the robe on a brass hook by the door, gave it a loving pat. “Too much. Too-oo much.” He followed her back to the kitchen where she went straight to the skillet and spooned the remainder of his simple chef Chinese into her bowl.

“I’m only eating because this is the first time any man has ever cooked for me. And I can’t let that one get by, you know? Truly. Never happened before.” She talked around a mouth full of rice and veg, gestured with her bowl. “This could be a bowl of fried hog poop, but knowing a man cooked it for me makes it great, whatever it is.” She swallowed the last of her rice and veg, balled up her paper napkin and dropped it in the bowl. “Seriously. Lay it out, space man. What’s up with the bathroom and the silk robes and everything?”

“This place belongs to seven non-affiliated, free lance hookers. They rented the place right after it was built because it was in the furthest out burbs, no one is looking for hookers out here, and they don’t do business or live in the apartment. They pull up, come inside and prep, walk out dressed up in expensive, real world clothes, climb back in their cars and hit their appointments. Town and Johns are east, desert and construction are west, they live wherever they live. I make sandwiches or omelets, do their laundry, keep the place clean, gas up their cars, glue heels back on shoes, fix stuff. C’mere.”  He set their bowls in the sink, tossed their napkins in a can under it and walked her back into the master bath in the front bedroom.

“See that?” Jackson pointed through the glass surround on a garden tub at a shiny brass shower head the size of a dinner plate. “I put that in for them last week. A hundred and twenty bucks, no shit. From Italy, I think. That paddle thing on the side goes all the way around. From standing in the rain to that little circle of holes in the middle that will beat your ass. It’s —”

She pushed him out of the room and locked the door. Less than a minute later her clothes flew out and the door locked again.

He waited until he heard the bathwater stop before starting the load of hooker office wear and Missy’s clothes. He sat on the couch and watched a video tape of a guy with a foreign accent explain beginner guitar and music theory. He couldn’t keep up with the guy on guitar, yet, but it was good for his brain to stay on top of even simple theory. And the only other tape, the sensual massage lesson, would have primed him to climb, uninvited, into the bathtub with his nameless guest.

***

“Massey, not Missy? Ferguson? Like the tractor?” He leaned his head on the back of the couch in mock shock. “Jesus. Alice Chalmers would at least have been more chick sounding.”

“Hey,” she kicked him on the shin with a bare foot, “there’s nothing wrong with Massey. I just stay away from all of that except for government forms because I have to tell it all, like now. Only nobody else has cooked for me or washed my clothes since mama died. Tell me you didn’t do it ‘cause you’re a panty sniffer. I could use a friend.”

“I only sniff to check for clean or dirty.” He grinned, held up the red can. “More Coke?”

“No. I like to crunch the ice chunks that still have some taste of it. I’ve never, ever seen anybody beat up ice with a hammer before.”

“I don’t like cubes. Don’t know why, just never have. My mom indulged me, so it’s a habit now. When did your mom die?”

“When my dad ran over her with a combine ‘cause she was fucking Nueller down in the air conditioned garage of the Esso. I was twelve then? Yeah, twelve, and just a couple of days before it happened my brother’d pulled a shotgun on dad when he went off on mom, told him not to touch her again, ever. I didn’t blame her when it all came out. Dad’s about a pig and a fucking half. Fat, drunk mostly, showers when he remembers. Nueller was always shiny clean, smelled like Old Spice even on a hot day, always had a crease in his pants and was fucking every woman in three or four counties in two states who had a guy like dad for a husband.”

“Nice work if you can get it.”

She wrinkled her nose like somebody’d farted. “Not really. He’s dead now, too, Nueller is. The man who owned the Ford lot from over in Anthony waited for him to step out from behind the pumps and ran him down. He was going about twenty-five, nailed Nuellie with the dead center of a brand-new Ford. Backed up over him, ran over him some more. The paper said Nueller was smiling. The Ford lot man’s wife looked a lot like Marilyn Monroe, some kind of hot girl everybody said. I didn’t know her. Nueller probably thought it was her coming for him, not her husband. Happy to dead. Boom.” She covered her knees again with the slippery, oversized pink silk robe. She went thoughtful for a moment, set her glass of ice on the coffee table, looked at him and was surprised he was listening.

“I guess that’s the best way to go, you know, looking forward to something. Mama was miserable and said all the time she only stayed for me. I know she had to have heard that combine, had to know what was coming, and didn’t try to run or anything. Miserable to dead. Boom.” She pulled the sleeve of the robe down over her left wrist where the wide, beaded Indian bracelet lived when she wasn’t fresh out of the tub. “I think that’s why I’m still here. Some days I feel too miserable to die. If I get happy someday? Lightning will strike me, I know it.”

Jackson pulled the sleeve back, looked at all the small, white scars on her wrist. Nothing deadly, just knicks. Manifested frustration. She turned, chin in the crook of her arm, watched him unload the clothes from a dryer in a closet by the kitchen.

“The Indian bracelet you like? I only got it because it stops me. I know it’s crazy, but sometimes I’ll even pinch myself with a roach clip if I’m bummed. I’m right handed and if I tried any of that with my left hand I’m so retarded I’d cut my arm off. I really sort of need my right one or I couldn’t do anything and then I’d be more miserable and not dead.”

“Cutting your arm off might be a good start on dead.” He dumped the basket of dryer friendly panties, teddies, slips, nothing but lace and hooks bras, a couple of nylon halter top with hot pants onesies along with Massey’s clothes on the big, square coffee table and started sorting. He was almost done, folded her panties, dropped them on top of her skirt and t-shirt.

“How’d you know?”

He held up a small piece of v-shaped lace draped over his finger and her tired at the seams tiger-striped bikinis, raised his eyebrows. He also held up what had once been a bra and was now a lot of stringy elastic and shapeless nylon and cotton. “Your bra is shot. You oughta toss it.”

“And wear what?”

“Go liberated or get in the top drawer in the big bedroom. Probably forty in there. Two of the ladies are about your size. Find one you like that fits. They’ll never miss it, and if they do I’ll tell them the dryer ate it.”

She came back dressed, with an obviously lacy bra under the t-shirt. “You’re a weird sort of guy, space man. You cook a little, do laundry like a Chinaman. You’ll look at my legs and show me the shower but not to make me feel creeped. Where’d you learn to be a house boy?”

“Lived with a girl who failed home-ec. The rest was mom went to work. Simple survival.”

“Same here on the survival. Only my mama was murdered and he got away with it.”