mon cherie, I understand. Oui,
I feel your pain.”
of Joe’s, we were, the
all-night diner next to Howard’s dad’s hotel. In a booth by the window. Simone,
a French-Canadian guest, was old, and funny-looking, but she was someone to eat
really late. In the Victorian
Room, “Marco and the Mustaches” had finished their last set. My mom—in royal
blue gown and turban—had snuck off with the keyboardist. A sneering little
Howard—love of my life—was
flirting with Marina, in the hotel lobby. Near the ancient cage elevator she ran.
She was fourteen—our age, but super-tall, with legs longer than my whole body. Shiny
black hair she could sit on.
I thought, blinking back
tears, we had a date. Didn’t we?
special,” he said, that first night, as we made out, on the mezzanine. That plum
velvet couch we just sunk into. “Not like most chicks. Smart, but not annoying
smart.” I know I beamed. “I like that,” he breathed. “And . . . these.” He
squeezed my breast. Down there, I felt wild, and hot. . . .
“See you later, Pam!” he said, as I rushed past them.
“Men,” Simone said, as I searched for the waitress, “they need
to---how you say, ‘be in control.’ Your little Howard already thinks he’s a big
Yeah, I thought, bitterly. Always showing his dick, to somebody.
‘Cos his dad owned the place, he got away with shit.
“Oh, Pam!” He’d wave it at me, but I’d look away. “’Pam
“‘Cos I’m still a virgin, he calls me that,” I confided in
Simone. “But I’m only fourteen.”
“Ahhh.” She smiled, like I’d said “forty.” Maybe the language
“Fourteen,” I repeated. “One-four.”
“When I was your age,” she said, “I had many lovers.”
I signaled the waitress. “Huh?” Simone looked sixty-something.
Plain, with gray hair, and corny glasses. Like an old man.
At a nearby table, a song came on the mini-jukebox. The Hollies:
“Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress.”
Marina. And Howard.
“Yeah?” The waitress said.
My stomach growled. I’d wanted the Cup of Joe Special: corned
beef on rye, with coleslaw, and Russian dressing. But now I pictured Howard with
Marina. Him toying with her Cher-like hair.
“What’cha want?” Impatiently, the waitress tapped the order book
with her pen.
Simone was staring outside, like she forgot we were supposed to
“The Special,” I said, imagining choking on coleslaw.
“Toast,” Simone told the waitress, “Jell-O. And tea.”
* * *
“Jacques. His name was Jacques.”
Simone piled cherry Jell-O onto a slice of plain toast. Her tea
she took black, without milk, or sugar.
“He had a wife. And many children. But he loved me best, he said.”
As she nibbled on the crust, her eyes looked wet. “But he ran away . . . with
all that I had.”
Money, I thought. Self-respect.
Right outside, a couple strolled past, arms around each other. A
guy, with cherubic golden curls. And a tall . . .
In my throat, the coleslaw stayed, as I watched them duck into
the hotel entrance.
I swallowed hard. “So, since then,” I said, “all you eat is . .
“Yes.” Smiling, she
picked up her tea. “Till he comes back.”
* * *
Somehow, I knew they’d be in there.
I had waited too long for the elevator. From the lobby, I’d
heard Howard’s dad yell, “Last Call!” in
the Victorian Room. That felt like an hour ago.
Simone had taken the stairs. “Come,” she said, “walk with me.”
shook my head.
My mom, I was sure, was in the keyboardist’s room, not ours. I
wasn’t scared I’d walk in on them.
When the elevator finally came down, I saw Howard, behind the
glass. Though the cage hid his expression, his head jerking back told me what
I’d seen it, before.
Unseen, Marina was on her knees, sucking his cock. Like those
blonde French-Canadians he’d dumped me for. ‘Cos I was “Pam the Prude.”
I backed away, hoping they wouldn’t see me. By the time the
elevator door opened, I heard slobbering, slurping. Him gasping, “Oh, yeah! . .
. Oooh, baby.”
In silent tears, I bolted up the stairs.
* * *
“Cheap fuck,” My mom said, at Cup of Joe’s, next morning. “Don’t
even buy his date breakfast.”
I didn’t answer.
“What’s up your ass?” For a change, she seemed concerned. “Hungry?”
“Well, I want the works: omelet, home fries. And
pancakes. With lots of syrup, and butter.”
The bottle was caked with syrup, from hours before. The
sticky-sweet smell made me sick. I thought of Howard’s cock, dripping into
“What about you?” Mom said, as the waitress—different from last
“Just some . . . toast,” I said, softly. “And tea.”
I shook my head. “And . . . you have cherry Jello-O?”
The waitress just looked at me. “For breakfast?” Mom said.
I forced a smile.
Yes, breakfast. And lunch. And probably
. . .
“No man is worth it,” Mom said.