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Cindy Rosmus
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yellowmama2.jpg
Art by Tim Ramstad

YELLOW MAMA

 

Cindy Rosmus

 

 

A Chevy Camaro, that’s what they had.  A ’69.  Ricky knew jack shit about cars, but since that was the year he was born, it stuck out.  The ugliest yellow, like the caked mouth of their mustard bottle.  But some things cake faster than others.  Like blood.  And their car was splattered with it.

Hood, fenders, and grill. Outside their trailer, Ricky stood shivering, staring at the car.  Early morning, but the sun was too bright.  The time change, no doubt.  A year ago, the light would’ve killed his bloodshot eyes.  Hangovers were a bitch, he remembered: blinding headaches, boozy aftertaste, overwhelming fear that somehow things would never be right.  Never get better.  Ever.

But they had, at least for him.  But now this.  This, Ricky realized, wiping his mouth furiously, was not him.  It was Sam.  ALANON calling!  His wife, Samantha, as active as ever.  Over and over Ricky wiped his mouth, like it was smeared with her lipstick.  But they hadn’t kissed, in a long time.  My God, he thought, what has she done?  Call the police! came the voice of reason.  But his legs were as inert as the car itself.  And he hated himself for it.

Last night, he’d been dead asleep when she came home.  Strange for him, but lately Icky Ricky was changing.  Oh, he still looked the same: short, dark-haired, with the same questioning dark eyes.  But sometimes those eyes actually had answers.  He’d kept his goatee, as a “souvenir” from his drinking days. He ate lots of veggies.  Mornings he jogged.  His new job, data entry clerk, beat slicing cold cuts at the corner deli.  He even prayed.

Yes, Ricky was evolving, and he owed it to his Higher Power: A. A., ALANON, but also to “Mouse.”  His sweet, accommodating little Mouse.  Her real name “Giselle” just didn’t suit her.  Petite, sandy-haired, with the palest of blue eyes behind the ugliest glasses: wire aviators like he wore as a kid.  Mouse was Samantha’s opposite and secret rival.  Last night, alone, snuggled under the covers, Ricky had dreamed.  Crystal clear dreams of both his girls, the nights he’d met them, two years apart: nightmarish Sam, with hair of hellfire red, wildly sucking his cock after Ladies’ Night, and gentle, spectacled Mouse, trembling at her first Recovery meeting.  Sam had spilled Jack-and-Coke on him, Mouse, her scalding coffee.  “I’m so sorry!” Mouse shrieked, as he jumped up. “It’s okay,” Ricky lied, through clenched teeth.  The pain was so bad, he’d nearly cried.

*   *   *

They’d been the perfect match: Sam and him.  He hated lipstick; the mess it made, mostly the taste.  But back then, he’d dug hers: “Blood Rose.” Even sucked on her lips for more. When they drank, he just couldn’t get enough of her.  That first night they made out, so wildly, everybody in the bar snickered.  “Get a room!”  Some guy kept yelling.  “Aw, shut up!” Ricky grumbled.  Even bombed, he’d despised himself for falling so hard, so fast. 

“You are so gorgeous!”  he told Sam.  “No, I’m Scorpio,” she said, giggling, playing with his goatee.  “October thirtieth.  Mischief Night,” she said seductively. “Possessive.  Loyal.  Sexy.”  He moaned, as she massaged his inner thighs.  “Bet you are, too. Just look at those eyes!”  Ricky melted.  Hers were as dark, and nearly devoured his.  “No, I’m a Sag,” he said, like some astro-wiz.  True, but a moment later, she snatched back her hand.

“A control freak!” Sam screamed, so people stared.  “ Sagittarians suck.  All brutally honest fuckers!”  Ricky wished he could hide somewhere.  “Who needs you?”  Now she was sobbing.  “Or the truth?”  Annoyed, the bartender came over.  “The truth is useless, you hear me?”  Booze, Ricky realized now.  Too much could set anybody off. 

One look from the bartender, and Ricky knew they were flagged.  Sam’s mascara connected with her smeared lipstick.  She looked like a sad clown.  His heart surged with…what?  Something that terrified him.  But the Sagittarian in him took charge.  The bartender glared as Ricky softly spit into a cocktail napkin, and wiped Sam’s face. “Thanks, Sag,” she said, and hiccuped.  “I…like…that,” she said between hiccups.  Again they made out, heavy duty.  He squeezed her so tight, he felt something crack…

*   *   *

He’d woken up, suddenly, once she was asleep.  Maybe it was the light she couldn’t sleep without.  That smell hit him, and his stomach lurched.  Booze, and what else?  All he knew was, he refused to touch her.  “I’m a Scorp with Gemini rising,” Sam would brag.  “Insanely jealous, but at the same time…a whore!”  Ricky stiffened. Why torture him?  Sure, she needed it, but not from him.  Since he’d found Mouse, he didn’t care who Samantha fucked.   

Or did he?  Why else would he stay?  Their trailer was a mess.  From the outside it was charming: fairy tale blue, with wooden tulips on sills.  Inside, it was like a litter box, thanks to her.  Mouse’s flat was tiny, immaculate, smelled of vanilla.  She would die for him to move in, take charge of her life.  “Get out!” Sam demanded, at least once a week.  And always he stayed.  But why?

“’Cos…” Mouse had said wisely, and so sadly, “’Cos you love her.”  He punched her pillow till feathers shot out.  She went on, “You really do, Ricky.”  How?  How?  Each punch seemed to say.  “ ‘ Let go,’ ” she quoted A. A., “ ‘And let God.’ ” Now that he was new, and clean, and sober, and in love with a newer, cleaner, sober woman… he couldn’t still be trapped!

But he was.  He was totally, madly in love with Samantha, and equally in hate with himself.  Just her tap on his shoulder made him cringe.  Yet, some nights he lay next to her, watching her sleep, fretfully.  This horrible, giddy feeling would come, sickening him, making him so happy, he could squeal.  As strong as the stench of booze, and just as real.  In her drunken stupor, he would…touch her, on the sneak, gently, so she wouldn’t wake up.  A strand of that crazy red hair, maybe.  Near tears, he’d feel, wanting to punch himself.  “Love you,” he’d mouth, “Oh, Sam!”

They hadn’t fucked, since…when?  God knows.  Not since Mouse, anyway.  “You make me drink!” was Sam’s new one, once he’d froze to her.  An icicle one moment, an animal the next, Sam could suck Ricky dry, then climb on top, clench her twat muscles around his limp stuff, roughly ride him till he was rock-hard again.  Mouse was happy just cuddling.  Still, he knew his incredible tongue brought Mouse to more orgasms in the past months than she ever believed possible.  No matter who Sam fucked, Ricky thought smugly, she was too trashed to enjoy it.

Such denial.  All the signs were there.  Common sense said, just quit drinking!  One day at a time.  Don’t pick up.  Ninety meetings in ninety days.  “Meetings, my ass!” Sam said, during her brief “dry drunk” period.  “All your new buddies.  Whining, self-righteous fucks.  Who needs ‘em?”  People willing to face the truth.  Like Mouse.     

Sam wasn’t stupid.  Hell, she was smarter than him!  A college grad!  Till recently, she’d had a good job, in a law office.  But she’d called in “drunk” too many times. “We’ll lose the car!” she wailed. “And this place.  What’ll we do?”  Against his will, Ricky pitied her. “I’ll pay the bills,” he said coldly. “You just chill.”  That same night, Sam went on the worst of rampages.  3AM, Ricky awakened to the wild honking of their car horn.  Then drunken shouting.  Outside, Sam had straddled the Camaro. “ Hey, you! ‘Yellow Mama!’ ” She stroked the hood.  “Know who you’re named after?”  Stunned, Ricky realized she was talking to the car. ‘‘Hey, Sag, ‘member that show?  Betcha don’t.”  She was obsessed with TV crime: forensics, serial slayings, the more brutal, the better. But this was Jersey. Only she would remember “Yellow Mama:” Alabama’s electric chair.   

Both “Yellow Mamas” were killing machines.  Ricky was clueless about blood splatter patterns, but one thing he knew for sure: this much meant something, or somebody was dead.

But who?

Yesterday he’d come home from work exhausted.  The last thing he needed was a scene.  The Big One.  Before she’d even had a drink. “You’re my husband.”  Sam screamed.  Ricky was pinned against the fridge.  “I need you!”  A squirming mass of tits and thighs, she rubbed herself against him.  His cock was rock-hard, but he resisted.  Starved lips begged for his, but he jerked his head away.  As they fought, the magnets toppled off the fridge door.  Phone numbers went flying.  She crawled down his body, tried eating him through his pants.  “Stop!” he yelled.  Grabbing her shoulders, he shoved her so roughly, she landed on her ass. 

For a moment she looked hurt, pathetic.  His heart swelled.  Then her eyes narrowed.  “Who is it?” she demanded. “You’re getting it from somebody.”  He froze, as she snatched up the phone numbers.  His A. A. pals, Mouse’s included.  “Some pigeon!” As he tried snatching them back, Sam ripped, and crumpled all she could.  She was clawing him, wildly, when he lost it. 

The smack laid her out flat.  She didn’t move.  Fear made him want to puke, and he rushed to the sink.  “You…fuck!” he heard then, very softly.  Relieved, he hung over the greasy dishes.  Once, way back, she’d got trashed on jello shots.  4PM the next day, he’d reached into her purse for the car keys and pulled out this red, pulpy mass.  “I saved one,” she muttered, as he flung it across the kitchen.  It oozed down the fridge.  “I’m sorry,” she said, back then.  “You fuck!” she said now, again, getting up. 

He was scared to turn around.  If she cracked his skull, it would be fast.  Instead, he heard jingling of keys.  Then the door slam. 

He ran out after her, just as the Camaro roared to life.  A wild screeching of tires.  Sam!  He almost screamed.  Come back!  I love… She slid all over, garbage cans crashing, just missing their neighbor, a Vietnam vet who looked about ninety.  “Cunt!” the neighbor yelled after Sam.  Ashamed, Ricky ducked back inside.  “Ya drunken whoo-ore!” he heard.  Even straight, Sam was the worst driver ever.

“It’s okay,” Mouse said softly. “She’ll be back.”  Ricky grimaced.  But her words, the touch of her small hand, even the smell of coffee brewing, comforted him.  They were almost alone, up front, in the church basement.  The meeting would begin soon, and it was his turn to chair.  “I never hit her before,” he said.  Cos she called you a pigeon.  Mouse, was, too.  A newcomer Ricky had fucked too soon.  “Thirteen-stepping,” A. A. called it.  “She’ll be back tonight, like nothing ever happened.”  But how did Mouse know?

More people were coming in.  “Where’s she now, do you think?” Mouse asked Ricky. “Which bar?”  A strange question.  “Boxer’s Brew, probably,” he said, suspiciously. “Our old hangout.  Why?”  Mouse’s smile was mysterious, daring.  She patted his shoulder as she got up.  He watched her head towards the back.  By the time he said, “Hi, I’m Ricky! I’m an alcoholic,” he’d forgotten Mouse’s peculiar behavior.  He never even noticed she’d left…

Now, this morning, it hit him.  Why had she left?  Where had she gone?  She’d left Recovery meetings early before, but was always home when he called, no matter how late.  How sad, that Mouse was at his beck and call, and he was at the mercy of Sam’s.  But no more, Ricky thought.  Fists clenched, he glared at the car.  The bloody headlights seemed to taunt him with Sam’s own eyes.  He had to do something.  But what?

Confront her?  Wake her, or just drag her outside by the hair, and force her to face this? “Fuck you!” she’d scream, waking up the whole trailer court.  It was Saturday, too early for these people, mostly drunks.  Sweat crawled down his neck.  Then everybody would know what happened.  Somebody was hurt bad, maybe dead.  Right now, as warped as it sounded, his world was at peace.  Somewhere a blue jay screeched.  In a neighbor’s trailer, a phone rang, was almost immediately answered by a mumbly machine.  He was still safe.

He?  Ricky thought bitterly, pacing. Safe?  He was innocent!  Sam was the culprit.  Vehicular homicide.  How many years would she get for this?  She would know, he thought wildly.  The Queen of Forensics.  An accident that might never have happened, if the driver wasn’t shit-faced!  So what if it happened in a blackout?  Her fingerprints, DNA would convict her.  He stopped pacing, felt his mouth stretch in a horrible smile.  Good for her!  He stepped back, studied the car almost in admiration.  And good riddance.

A moment later, he sunk to his knees, sobbing.  Out of nowhere tears had come, and he bit his fist so hard, it bled.  My wife, he thought, as tremors shook him.  Can’t live with her, my God, could he really live without her?  Mouse.  He had to call Mouse, ask her what to do.  Only she would understand, in her selfless way.  And he, Mr. Control Freak himself, would obey her!

No answer, still.  He was confused, anxious.  Where was she?  As he slipped past their tiny bedroom, Ricky glanced in at Sam.  On her back, she was now, still out cold.  Nude. He hadn’t noticed before.  Something about her body was different.  He crept closer.  The huge bruise under her left breast matched the one by her eye.  Not his doing.  All he’d done was slap her cheek.  The impact from the accident.  When she woke up, oh man, the pain she’d be in!

 Furious with himself, Ricky tried Mouse again.  Nearly slammed down the receiver this time.  How dare she?  Didn’t she know he was worried sick?  Was she playing hard-to-get, so he’d leave Sam?  Suddenly, in his mind, he saw Mouse the way Sam would: a helpless Plain Jane, not in Sam’s league.  Somebody you’d kick aside, or wipe your shoes on.  Muddy, bloody shoes.

In the back of his mind was a thought so abominable, he instantly forgot it.  Or thought he did.  Keeping his mind blank, he got to work.  Bucket, big sponge, detergent.  Dish, or laundry? He’d use both.  As the water rushed into the bucket, he found himself whistling cheerfully, like some lunatic.  Sudsy water spilled, as he passed the bedroom.  Fuck you, he told the phone. 

Enabler!  The word disgusted him.  Haunted him, as he hurried outside.  As he splashed water on the Camaro, a worse word described him: accomplice.  Quickly, he soaped up the hood.  His heart raced like it used to, when he’d first started jogging.  After he finished the big clean-up, he’d go for a run.  Or…something.  Oh, God, he thought, he would kill for a drink.

Mouse, he thought wildly.  Save me!

The fenders, next.  So much blood, pink suds ran over his hands.  Gloves, he realized.  He should’ve worn rubber gloves.  Too late, now.  He and his wife were partners in crime.  Sorry, Mouse.  Should’ve answered the phone!  Ricky wrung out the sponge, tightly, like he was wringing her little neck.  Now she’d lost him for good!  Well, she knew he was married, didn’t she?  Dopey little four-eyed fuck!  Wearily he soaped up the sponge again, then bent to scrub the grill.

They were there, all twisted, imbedded in the grill.  No lenses, just the frames.  Those geeky wire ones, like he wore as a kid.  Puke filled his throat. 

Inside, the phone rang.  But Ricky never heard it.  On his knees, he and “Yellow Mama” shared the kiss of death.

~~~~~

 

“Yellow Mama.” Collected in Angel of Manslaughter by Cindy Rosmus.  Copyright 2006 © Fossil Publications. First appeared in Hardboiled, # 32, November 2004.

 

SO MUCH RED

 

By

 

Cindy Rosmus

 

 

Her eyes were swollen, from crying.  So bloodshot, if she were a corpse, the M.E. would’ve ruled “Death by Asphyxiation.”

 

Up in her room, Mallory felt trapped.  More than she’d ever felt in his cellar, chained and gagged, hanging from the ceiling.  Or cuffed to that table. Waiting for that hot lick of the whip, wondering how many lashes she would get, hoping she could endure just one more, before screaming that word…Their color: of bleeding sunsets, her sweet, juicy insides, the underside of poison ‘shrooms.  Compared to this, all that was kid stuff.

 

This…dread.  Of life without him.  It was maddening.  Much worse than that dread she’d felt in school.  That any minute her cell would ring…

 

Mal-lory?”  Her Master’s Voice.  “Where are you, in health class?”

 

It was against the rules to leave your cell on in school.  All eyes were on Mallory as she whispered, “Yes!  But I can’t talk.”

 

As Mrs. Rose stalked over, Her Master said, “Talk?  When do I ever call…to talk?”

 

Mrs. Rose was the “Old School” type.  Since way back, when Mallory’s mom herself was a sophomore.  “The phone, Miss D’Amico!”  Her fat hand in Mallory’s face.

 

“Come here now.”  And he hung up.

 

Only once was she commanded to leave class. 

 

And just one chance she had to obey.  

 

She had no appetite anymore.  Whatever her folks gave her—even her favorite cereal, Lucky Charms—came right back up.  But, “Considering what she’s been through,” the female doctor had told them, “It makes perfect sense.”

 

Sad as she felt, Mallory almost laughed.  So far, that female doctor was totally clueless.  Welts, and lash marks stood out clearly on Mallory’s body.  But inside…

 

Last period?  Uh…this past week I had it!  Mallory had lied. 

 

No wonder she couldn’t hold down food.  But she refused to tell them about this.  The tiny life she just knew was deep inside her, growing, despite the lack of Lucky Charms.  Too soon they’d stop believing her, and give her a test.  Soon they’d all know.

 

How it’d happened…she wasn’t sure.  He was always so careful.  So in control.  As much as playtime absorbed him.  And she…as alert as that blindfold allowed.  That sound—of foil ripping—meant he was unwrapping a condom, didn’t it?  Each time he’d entered her, it had felt the same.  Forbidden…delicious!  Always, she shivered.  As hard as he rammed her, still straining her after all these months, hadn’t he protected her?  Not once had there been a massive…explosion, okay?  At least, not inside of her!

 

Just the real sticky table.  But that might’ve been blood.  Hers, from playtime.

 

Besides blood.  When he pulled off that condom, what if…

 

And she was bound fast.  She couldn’t get away!

 

Would she have wanted to?

 

Like it was real, she could see it all, now: bony fingers tearing it out of her, leaving her womb raw, bleeding.  Those same, bony fingers that really had pulled her off him: Richard Steele, her Master.  The “mystery” neighbor with devilish dark eyes, who’d made her feel so special.

 

As the cop arrested him, cuffed him, he’d laughed!  That rich, booming laugh that always meant trouble.  How dare you? said that laugh.  You think you can hold me?  Or stop me?

 

“No!” she screamed.  No!”  How hard she’d clung to him made him laugh harder.  Maybe at her.  His hysterical teen slave had dug in so deeply, she must’ve left marks.  On him!  That’s a switch!  her dad would’ve said.

 

No, she thought, shuddering.  What Dad had really said….

 

*     *     *

 

Cocksucker!”  Sal had screamed, at Steele, who’d stopped laughing.  The cop grabbed Sal, pulled him back. “You…fucking…pedophile!” 

 

Hands cuffed behind him, Steele towered over Sal.  “I’ll kill you!” Sal shrieked, tried to fight off the cop.

 

Steele smirked.  All the evil Sal had known since grade school was in that smirk.  Everything filthy and cruel, your worst nightmares, gritty worms, the devil, sick shit people did to animals…it was all there.

 

“I will!” Sal yelled. “I swear it!” From the other side, another cop grabbed him.  “In front of all these fuckers!  I swear…I’ll get you!  For raping my baby…”

 

Steele was silent.  But his eyes said it all: It wasn’t rape.  Don’t kid yourself.  And she’s no baby. Succulent jail bait.  My favorite flavor.

 

“You sick fuck!” Sal screamed.  Horrified, he felt his eyes fill with tears.  He wouldn’t cry, not in front of that freak.  “What’s wrong with you?  Scared she’d wise up?  Get away?  You had to chain her?  And beat her?”

 

Loved it as much as I did, Steele’s eyes said.  She loves me.

 

Not far back, in Maureen’s arms, was Mallory.  Without turning, Sal just knew those brat’s eyes were glued to Steele.  That his worst fears were real.

 

“Wanna beat somebody?  Come dance with me!” Again, Sal tried to shake off the cops.

 

In their thick skulls, something must’ve clicked, ‘cos the arresting officer was leading Steele to the patrol car.  Over his shoulder, Steele looked beyond Sal. 

 

Sal jerked halfway around.  “Don’t look at him!” he told Mallory.  “Ya fuckin’ dope.  Stop that!”

 

It was sickening.  His little girl, who looked so much like him, was groping…for that fuck!  That scumbag who’d violated her!  Who’d stuck his dirty thing in her little hole.  Who’d tortured her!  Maureen had her other arm, but Mallory looked ready to chew it off!  Wild-eyed, and hungry, his baby looked.

 

Like she wanted more.

 

Sal lost it.  A howl burst out of him.  As his tears gushed down, the car door slammed.  Till the patrol car had pulled away, the two cops held Sal fast.  But he’d stopped fighting.  A blubbering mess, he hadn’t cried like this since his Mama died, years back.  He’d been at the track. He’d lost everything, the Camaro, too.  Would anybody forgive him?  Could he ever forgive himself?

 

Till today, that was the worst luck he’d ever had.

 

*     *     *

 

 

As she sat on the bed, Maureen hugged herself, to keep warm.  Damn!  she thought, it’s freezing in here. 

 

The a/c was on high, and Mal was huddled under the covers.  Her back to Maureen, she faced the window that faced his house.

Maureen cringed.  Real bad, she wanted to grab her, love her, maybe strangle her, for being so fucking stupid.  And crazy!

 

As she looked around, Maureen almost laughed.  Against the pink walls was typical teen shit: a PC, junk Mal had won at carnivals, old Harry Potter stuff.  New pics of Johnny Depp.  The Caribbean Pirate. 

 

Maureen smirked.  That bloodthirsty fuck was nothing, compared to Steele.  A teen crush gone bad in the worst way.

 

What, she asked herself, Can I say?  Almost timidly she reached over, snatched back her hand.  No touching, she thought.  After what he’d done to her.  After how he’d…touched her.

 

“Kinky” was great, for grown-ups.  Hey…Maureen smirked.  If Eddie wanted to try …cuffs, nipple clips, why not?  She wouldn’t mind being tied up, though more likely she’d tie him up.  She even worked with a guy with a real-live “mistress,” who kept him “locked up,” if you can dig that….

 

Sal wouldn’t.  She was lucky he even…

 

As Mal stirred, Maureen bristled.  That fuck, she thought, about Steele.  And my baby!  Just fifteen, this sweet, shy kid.  Doesn’t even curse.  Maureen still couldn’t believe it!  No piercings, no tatts.  All Mal had bugged her for was that dye job.  The hot-pink hair Sal hated so much.

 

Mal turned over.  No face, just a few tufts of that hair were visible beneath the covers.  Maureen resisted the urge to stroke it back.

 

Was it my fault? she thought.

 

Where was I, she wondered, when he made his move?  Christ, he lived across the street. When Mal snuck over there, what was I doing?

 

She grimaced.  Fucking Eddie. Playing pool.  Sucking Eddie’s….Oh, yeah, and working like a dog, in that lingerie factory!  Overtime out the ass, to pay somebody else’s gambling debts!

 

Goosebumps, she had.  Way back, she would’ve yanked off Mal’s covers. Laughing, they would’ve slapped each other.  Then shared the comforter.  Maybe napped together, like sisters, instead of a too-young, dissatisfied mama and a daughter whose bizarre exploits took chunks out of everybody’s ass.

 

Except…Maureen got up and went to the window.  She glared out at that silent brick house…His.

 

Steele, of course, would get away with this.  Criminal Sexual Conduct, it was called, in this state.  Only a fourth-degree offense!  Maureen and Sal didn’t know much, but it didn’t look great.  Some jail time, he might get.  But only…Maureen shut the drapes…if Mal testified.

 

Never!  She could hear Mal’s screams, still.  Feel those nails dig into her, as Maureen pulled her off Steele.  Blood had poured out.  Even now, beneath Maureen’s gooseflesh, were deep scratches. 

 

As she’d fought with Mal, Steele was so close, Maureen could smell him.  Fancy cologne, he smelled of, and big bucks, period. 

 

That smile.  I’ll get off, it said.  And I’ll be back.

 

Those eyes: dark, and so deep, Maureen imagined drowning in them.  Herself and Mal.  Like that water the Titanic had sunk into.

 

“If she don’t testify,” the cop had told Sal, “You’re fucked.  Got no case.”

 

Even worse, Mal could deny everything!  With those big, innocent eyes, she could say, “He never touched me!  I was just flirting.  Using him to make Sammy jealous.”

 

And Sammy…

 

Chick magnet,” my ass, Maureen thought. What a dope.  So fucking gullible.  All of us

 

Just looking for love…in the worst places.

 

Mal was awake, now, but still silent.  Like she would never, ever speak again.  Unless he said it was okay.

 

Maureen’s heart ached.  Again she wanted to lunge at Mal, squeeze her so tight, their ribs cracked. 

 

But she didn’t.  And when she opened her mouth, not one word came out.

 

*     *     *

 

A semi-automatic, he thought this was called. 

 

Well…Sammy smiled, bitterly.  It had a slide.  At least he knew that.  He knew shit about guns, but bet he could fire this one, himself.

 

Before he pussied out.

 

He was so jumpy, he couldn’t sit still.  And forget trying to sleep.

 

Under his bed, it was, in a shoebox.  “An’ don’t touch!” his cousin Vinnie had snarled, like Sammy was two instead of sixteen.  Like Sammy slurped jarred apricots instead of Jager, and had no tribal tatts.  Like he couldn’t see that he, himself, was the wrong guy for the job.

 

Or, was he? 

 

Sammy’s blood boiled, he was so pissed.  Outraged, over this. 

 

The balls, of that guy…

 

Steele, Mal’s…neighbor.  That smooth-talking fuck.  Money shooting out his ass, like diarrhea.  Fucking limey pervert, that’s all he was! To steal his damn chick…out from under his nose….Hypnotize her…. Do all that…sick shit to her!

 

As he lit a cigarette, Sammy’s hand shook.  “No smoking up there!” his folks always said.  Fuck them. 

 

This was bad, man!  He needed Jager.  Even a beer would help, but there was no sneaking into their fridge.  These days, he could shit on fucking Pluto, and they’d smell it.  Like he was the worst scum there was.

 

The worst.  Sammy’s eyes narrowed.  Not me, he thought.  Shocked, he felt tears behind them, wildly blinked them back.  Fuck this! he told himself.  Shee-it!  Not even for Mal, would he de-ball himself.

 

Like her dad….Poor Sal!  How he’d bawled over this!  In front of him!  In front of that piece of shit. 

 

Sammy squatted, fists clenched. Without realizing it, he’d got up.  He was ready for a fight, hot to kill him!  All by himself

 

“I swear…I’ll get you!”  Sal to Steele, according to Cousin Vinnie.  The “middle man.”  Who’d heard it all.  What luck Vinnie had seen the whole thing.

 

“ S’like this,” Vinnie to Sal, at Barberi’s, the family pizza joint.  “Ya want it done, I know a guy, who knows a guy….It’s gonna cost ya.  Not right away, he can’t do it.  Or they’ll tie it to you. But it’s the only way.”

 

Greasiest pie in town.  You could see your face in your slice, Sammy knew.  He bet Sal’s looked sickly.  Like Death took a holiday.  “Lemme think about it, Vin.”

 

“Think about what?  He’s gonna get off.”  Vinnie would sound almost glad.  He loved setting this up.  “Oh, he’ll pay a fine.  But you can bet that’s it.”  He’d wait a little while for that to sink in. “Then what?”

 

Sal would be wishing he’d kept his mouth shut.  Or that he had Steele’s bucks. With that arrogant smile, Steele could write a check for any amount.  And still have plenty left over for duct tape.

 

Sammy could see Vinnie’s smirk.  “Back in your little girl’s pants!”

 

“Don’t touch!”  Again, his cousin warned him.  But as Sammy got down on the floor, he felt all grown-up.  His veins burned, with something more than blood.  Gone was his urge for a drink.

 

Fuck waiting.  It had to be done now.

 

As he slid the box out from under his childhood bed, he felt like a new man.   He would be  the” man.  The “friend of the friend.”

 

Not “hit man,” but “hero.”

 

*     *     *

 

He knew he shouldn’t be smiling, but couldn’t help it.

 

Steele could hear them all now: “ ’At’s where he belongs!  Some filthy cell, with rats gnawing his balls!”  “That fuck! Let ’im die there!”  Not a chance, Steele thought.  And his favorite: “I’ll kill you!  I swear it!”  Her father.  Sobbing, uncontrollably, like a child.  “In front of all these fuckers!”  Bad move, Steele thought.

 

Sure, he’d spent the night in that holding cell.  Not as comfortable as his cellar “playroom,” but he’d managed.  No killers surrounded him, just two blokes reeking of after-hours grog. “Prince Charles,” one called Steele. Neither was a match for Steele’s height, or strength.  Since the court had his wallet, Steele had no fear of being robbed. No fear of anything.  When his passport was confiscated, he said simply, “Where would I go?”

 

His home was here, now, in the States.  And he’d return to it, shortly.

 

Thanks to…what was her name?  His defense attorney?

 

“Liardi.  Katrina Liardi.” Her handshake was firm, like a man’s.  Like she was used to proving herself.  Mid-thirties, an attractive bird, though losing twenty pounds would do her good. “But you can call me ‘Kat.’ ”

 

It was she Steele had been mugging for.  “ ‘Liardi,’ ” he repeated, smiling wider.  Six languages, he spoke fluently.  “Italian, of course.  Which means…”

 

She beamed. “ ‘King of the Liars’!” 

 

Perfect. 

 

Red hair, she had.  A rich, ruby color.  And so shiny.  Like an ad for an expensive new shampoo.  Steele liked red hair.  The color red, period.

 

Though his favorite was…

 

What had happened was no shock to him.  He was bound to get caught someday, with one of them.

 

But this one…

 

Mallory, the most challenging of his “slaves,” had been special.  At fifteen, she was older than most (Was he growing up? he’d wondered, chuckling), but deliciously malleable, after all.  Her flesh tingled beneath his lips, stood up to his whip.  As her skin tore, the blood seemed to resist, before bursting forth!

 

Remembering this, made his cock stiffen.  He crossed his long legs, wondering if Miss “King o’ the Liars” was a mind reader, as well as a fool.

 

“Whether you did it or not, is irrelevant,” she was saying.  A true “bleeding heart.”  “You have rights.”  Her eyes gleamed.

 

He rubbed his chin, wishing he’d been allowed to shave.  But no matter.  Already he had her “wrapped.”  He could tell.

 

As he leaned over, she sucked in her breath.  “But I didn’t do it,” he said, smoothly. 

 

“I didn’t think so.”

 

Trying hard not to laugh, he went on.  “The ramblings of an hysterical teenager.  Always trying to get my attention.  Kat,” he said, moving closer.  “Have you ever been stalked?”

 

Slowly, the fool lawyer shook her head.

 

“It’s no fun.  This girl…what’s her name again?”

 

“Uh…Mallory.”  She seemed almost unsure.

 

“Would sit in her window, watching…waiting for me to leave the house.  I’d be late, sometimes hours late for an appointment, waiting for her to go away.” 

 

“My God.”

 

Her hand wasn’t far from his, which edged closer.  “When I was a child,” he said, “In England…” As he closed his hand over hers, hers quivered like jello.  “My older sister did the same thing…”

 

She looked ready to swallow him whole.

 

“To Paul McCartney.”

 

If she was calculating his age, she didn’t get far.  “My father…” he said, without looking at her, “Raped us both.”

 

As she squeezed his hand, Steele smiled, sadly.

 

Home, he thought, an hour later.  He was free on bail, in his lawyer’s car.  Her smile was triumphant.  He longed to slap it off her face, but resisted.

 

She was much too old.

 

*     *     *

 

In the window, she sat, just like the old days.

 

What an effort, climbing onto the sill.  Mallory felt so weak, all over, especially her head.  Like her brain needed crutches.  The a/c blew back her hair, but she was beyond feeling cold.  Dead was more like it.  Without him, she already felt hollow, despite what she was sure was growing inside of her.

 

Even he was clueless about that!

 

Dare she feel smug?

 

How much she’d slept, she didn’t know.  She wasn’t used to so much sleep.  He enjoyed keeping her up.  Keeping her hanging, really, till he was ready for her. 

 

Was this real? 

 

All this…bad talk, about him.  How he didn’t love her.  How he would’ve cast her aside in the end.  How she was just one of…many young girls he’d brainwashed. 

 

“He’ll fucking burn,” her dad had said, “For this!”

 

Burn…but first he would have to…

 

Die.

 

As she jumped down off the sill, her stomach lurched.  The pink room spun.  But she had to warn him.  Wherever he was.

 

“He’ll be out on bail,” she’d heard Mom say before.  “Today.”  Maybe to Eddie, on the cell. “You watch.”

         

She almost fell, but caught herself in time.  She hated this room!  It was way too pink, like a giant placenta.  Smothering her.  She had to get out of here.

 

Somehow, she made it downstairs, past them in the kitchen.

 

Outside, it was hot.  Disgustingly humid.  She grabbed the railing.

 

Around her, everywhere, were wild roses.  In this unbearable heat, they looked droopy, ready to die.  They seemed to call to her. 

 

There, across the street, was…him!

 

Her heart leapt.  Master!  A burst of energy.  She waved, frantically, to him.

 

He was getting out of…whose car?

 

Mallory’s hand froze.

 

Some old, fat redhead’s.  As he saw Mallory, he seized the woman’s arm.  They both stared at her.

 

Who was she?  Mallory wondered.  But it was forbidden to ask.

 

And who was that, over there, behind Steele’s rosebush?  Or was she seeing things? 

 

A black gloved hand, holding…was that a gun?

 

No, she thought, feeling elated.  Just a bird.

 

Arms wide, she flew across the street.

 

 

THE END

 

    "So Much Red" is the sequel to "Pink", which appeared in issue #11 of Devil Blossoms, Copyright 2006, published by Asterius Press.

 

 

 

 

 

holidaycheer.jpg
Art by John and Flo Stanton

HOLIDAY CHEER

 

by

 

Cindy Rosmus

 

 

“Shoplifting time?” their boss Alex had said as Elena and Dulce left the office.  He was overflowing with sarcasm these days.  Just that morning, he’d told them, “The only Christmas gifts you’re getting . . .” He snickered. “Is still having jobs for New Year’s.”

Last week, while the girls were trimming the office tree, Alex made fun of the ornaments.  Even  adjusted his glasses, so he could see them better. “Get you a speculum from my brother, the ‘g-y-n,’ ” he’d joked. Dulce was horrified. “Scrooge!” Elena said. 

Their friend Ceil, who worked in the sales office across the hall, asked Alex who’d clawed his face. “Was it you?” she demanded of each of the cat snapshots on Alex’s bulletin board. He’d stormed out when Ceil had picked up the new framed photo of his wife.

Elena remembered when they’d all been friends.  Ceil had spent her free time in their office; now she hardly ever stopped by.  Just a month ago, Alex had taken Ceil out to lunch for her birthday. Now they only spoke when they had something nasty to say to each other.

If only Alex had changed, Elena would’ve asked Ceil what had happened. But Ceil seemed to have forgotten she’d ever been Elena and Dulce’s friend.  So far she hadn’t asked either what she wanted for Christmas, or even exchanged Christmas cards with them.  Most of all, she’d stopped confiding in them.  So neither asked Ceil to come shopping with them this Friday night.

At four-thirty it started to snow, and as they walked to the train, Elena imagined a lunatic above them shredding paper dolls.  She didn’t mention this to Dulce. “You sick bitch,” Dulce would’ve said.

People thought they were sisters, though they looked little alike, and came from different parts of the world.  Dulce was a twenty-one-year-old, baby-faced Filipino with very generous parents.  A real go-getter.  She wouldn’t be at Fillimon Publications for long. Someday she’d be an accountant for some rich guy.

Elena was Dominican, twenty-three, but took life as seriously as a woman twice her age.  Someday she’d be a therapist.  Weeknights she went to school, working toward that dream.  She had lustrous black hair and small, intense features.

She’d had a rough week.  Besides feeling uneasy at work, she was miserable at home.  Her parents fought constantly, and two days ago, her brother Carlos had been thrown out of the house after their mother found a gram of coke in his jeans pocket. 

Elena wished she had a boyfriend who didn’t live in Santo Domingo, or at least one who loved her enough to make it to the states for Christmas.

Rush hour in the City was worse for the holiday shoppers. What’ll it be like on Christmas Eve? Elena wondered, as they hurried along.  On the streets, homeless people were scattered like stubborn roaches.  As the girls passed, an old lady with blue eyes as bright as the Caribbean grabbed Dulce’s sleeve and asked where she’d bought her leather coat.  Elena felt sorry for a one-armed panhandler but ran out of change to give the blind, legless, and one-guzzling ones she saw next.

“What’re you getting your mother?” Dulce asked half an hour later at Century 21.

“Nothing she’ll like, I’m sure.” Elena smirked at the price tag on a silk blouse. “I wish I could send them both to Santo Domingo.”

Dulce smiled. “Wouldn’t Tito rather see you?”

“The joke would be on him.”

They stopped last outside a boutique with windows displaying the most bizarre fashions they’d ever seen in shades ranging from mustard yellow to midnight blue.

“My God, look at that!” Dulce said.

It was a micro-minidress that looked more like an oversized clutch.  That and the mannequin’s fishnet hose were an identical Granny Smith apple-green.  The  stiletto pumps were exactly the kind Ceil would wear.

“I miss Ceil,” Elena said.

“You, too?”

The green outfit sure was made for Ceil, but not the mysterious grouch she’d become, nor even the friend who’d once slapped Elena out of hysterics when a co-worker had committed suicide.  This was the Ceil she’d been during the summer who’d changed so drastically with her thirtieth birthday.

One day in July, Ceil had come to work wearing an outfit Elena would only have worn out to a club.  Puta Pants,” she’d called Ceil, and the three girls laughed.  “I’m going out later,” Ceil had explained, and they’d dropped the subject.  But then the next day, Ceil had worn a tight skirt and revealing tee shirt.  For the rest of the summer each day’s outfit surpassed the one before.

Suddenly Ceil was the “Mystery Woman” of Fillimon Publications.  One day Alex himself had asked Ceil where she was going after work.  “Follow me,” she’d said smoothly, “and find out.”

“You think they’re having an affair?” Elena asked Dulce, as they walked to their train.

“She would’ve told us.”

“Not if they didn’t want us to know.”

“But Alex loves his wife.”

Smiling, Elena watched a bum spit down the subway pit, just missing some guy’s head.  “Think so?”

The first time Alex had taken Ceil to lunch, he’d casually asked the girls not to mention it to his wife.   “Lana’s paranoid,” he’d said, attempting a laugh. On his desk were many photos of his wife, and she sure didn’t look paranoid to Elena. 

All Lana’s pictures were taken in windy places.  Olive-skinned, with her cranberry hair blown to either side, she was ecstatically beautiful.  “Besides,” Alex had told Elena, “I only like redheads.” One look had told Elena his wife hadn’t been a redhead for long.

Still, Alex rarely mentioned his wife.  When they talked on the phone at work, his voice was pitched so high, he could’ve been yessing his overbearing Jewish mama.  Only when Ceil was perched on his desk, re-tying his Geoffrey Beane ties or admiring the latest photos of his cats, did he try to sound blissfully-married.  Elena recalled his eyes never left Ceil’s face.

 

Looks like that had always unnerved Elena.

“If they are,” Elena told Dulce, “It’s none of our business.”

Their train was delayed indefinitely due to the heavy snow.  “How ‘bout a Christmas drink?” Dulce said.

Elena wasn’t much of a drinker. “Well,” she said reluctantly. “Let me call my mother.”

But the lines for the phones were so long, they headed straight for the commuter bar. “Besides,” Dulce chided her, “How long does it take to drink one ‘Shirley Temple’?”

Though every table was taken, they arrived just in time to apprehend two seats at the bar.  Elena ordered a white wine, and Dulce had her usual Kir.  Dulce attacked the free hors d’hoeurves.

The place was a cross between a cheesy cocktail lounge and a friendly corner tavern.  A huge Christmas tree was covered with tasteless ornaments and noticeably defective lights. Over the bar was a moose head sporting a Santa Claus cap and from whose antlers hung a string of little plastic Santas.   

Though the waiters and waitresses wore tux-like uniforms, the handsome blond bartender had on tight jeans and a green tee with nine drunken reindeer scattered across his muscular chest.

As she picked at the little chicken wings and barbecued ribs, Elena looked around the crowded room.  In between impatient executives and jolly shoppers who didn’t mind being stranded, apprehensive-looking couples stuck out.  Elena suspected most were married—but not to each other.

The wine made her even more depressed.  No doubt Tito had a girl or two in Santo Domingo.  Elena’s brother Carlos had hurt more than enough this year—one named Marianela had called up crying six times on Thanksgiving.  Their father had finally told the girl to “¡ Vete al carajo!”

“What’s wrong?” Dulce asked.

“Nothing.” Elena wiped barbecue sauce off her fingers.  “You think Jonas cheats on you?”

“Better now than after we’re married. If I can stand him that long.”

“See that guy in the navy suit? With the woman in gray?”

“What about him?”

Elena looked away. “He just winked at me. You don’t think she’s his wife, do you?”

Dulce signaled the bartender.  “Of course not!  She’s wearing too much makeup.”

“Nothing for me,” Elena murmured.  “One’s enough.”

Feliz Navidad, you little sissy.”  And Dulce ordered two more, anyway.

The bartender brought Elena a Kir instead of plain white wine, but she decided to try it.  The first sip was intriguing, the second and third went straight to her head.  As she stirred the drink, strange impressions of it raced through her mind.  Crème de Cassis made her feel she was eating a jelly donut while drinking white wine.  And the color—a lurid pink—made her think of strained blood, or diluted passion.  She wondered if the Lunatic-in-the-Sky was still shredding paper dolls.

Then, from across the bar, came a crash.  A red-faced, very drunk businessman was holding the bottom half of what had been a martini glass.  “Fuckin’ thing broke right in my hand,” he explained to the nervous young man next to him.

“All right, Tom, you’ve had enough,” the bartender said.

“But it wasn’t my . . . “

As the bartender brushed away broken glass and replaced several customers’ drinks, Elena took another look at the young man next to Tom. He faced somebody blocked from Elena’s view by the bartender’s broad back, but whose red-nailed hand clutched the young man’s tie.  Without turning around, he nodded as Tom said, “So long, pal.  I’m getting’ the fuck out of here!”

There was something familiar about the young man that Elena couldn’t quite place. He might’ve been an ex-boyfriend or cousin.  He looked Latino, but not really, like he was merely playing the part, with dark hair and mustache and olive skin, but his eyes seemed too closely-set and small, almost shrunken from their original size.  He looked as uncomfortable in his white shirt and maroon tie as if he’d just been fired from a brand-new job.

When he put his glasses on to check his watch, Elena gasped.  As the bartender bent down, both girls saw Ceil untie Alex’s tie.  When they kissed, both girls looked away, but not at each other.

“Aw . . .shit,” Dulce whispered.

Reluctantly, Elena’s eyes returned to the couple.  Now that Alex faced front, she could even see the scratch-marks on his cheek.  What a difference a pair of glasses made!  The wine made Elena imagine a potential mother-in-law’s appraisal of him: He’s no Englebert Humperdinck, but he’ll make you a good husband.”

Ceil, on the other hand, looked totally unlike herself.  Above her black leather skirt and red angora sweater, her dark eyes were as somber as the dead Christmas tree lights. Against her skin, her hair was almost black and managed to curl, as if she’d gotten it wet or been sweating profusely.  Most of her lipstick had come off on Alex’s face, and what remained on and below her lips made her look like a child who’d been playing dress-up.  As if she’d read Elena’s mind, Ceil wiped her mouth and chin with a cocktail napkin, then did the same to Alex.

“They’re going to see us,” Dulce said, in a mournful tone.

But Alex and Ceil seemed oblivious to them.  Ceil seemed to have drunk quite a lot, while Alex appeared only mildly tipsy.  Elena recalled that at office celebrations, Alex never drank more than a small paper cup of champagne or wine.  Now he was finishing a Beck’s but looked like he needed something stronger.  Ceil herself was drinking something Elena could nearly smell across the bar.

Still clutching her drink, Ceil suddenly seized Alex and pulled him to her again.  It was the strangest kiss Elena ever saw.  Each seemed to be holding the other’s hand down and out of the way, as if a blow were feared. It finally ended with Alex mumbling something that caused Ceil to nod—without smiling, or even looking into his eyes—before downing her drink.

“Let’s get out of here,” Elena whispered to Dulce.

Eyes on the couple, the girls gathered up their belongings and began to squeeze through the crowd.

“Goodnight, girls!” the bartender said too loudly.

“Don’t go!  We need some holiday cheer!” yelled an executive drunk in a huge designer suit.

“We’ll buy you dinner,” said his friend. “Hey, China Doll!”

“Aw, shit,” Dulce muttered.

Alex and Ceil looked up. One of them gasped, Elena wasn’t sure who. Then Alex smiled to hide his embarrassment, but looked down at his hands.  Ceil fished an ice cube out of her glass and popped it into her mouth.  Unsmiling, she beckoned the girls over as if she’d been expecting them.

“What’re you drinking?” Ceil asked them.  “Your boss wants to buy you a drink.”

Alex had taken off his glasses again and was now rubbing his face. His hands were as small as a young girl’s.  For the first time Elena noticed that his wedding ring was taped with band-aid tape.

“I’d rather have my Christmas bonus,” Dulce said boldly, and everyone laughed but Ceil.

“Isn’t he cute without his glasses?” Ceil said.

“What can I get for you ladies?” the bartender asked the girls. “Two more of the same?”

“Another round for us, too,” Ceil said.  “No ice in mine this time.”

“Ceil . . .” was all Alex said.

“Sit down,” Ceil offered, sliding unsteadily off her seat.

“We really have to go,” Elena said.

“Why? You can’t hate him as much as I do.”

“Sit down, Ceil,” Alex murmured, without looking at any of them.  Then he got up himself.

“We’ll stand,” Dulce said.

As they hung their coats on the seats, Elena remembered how the four of them had once spent fifteen minutes of company time shooting rubber bands at each other. It felt like years instead of six months ago.

Ceil accepted her fresh drink from the bartender with her first smile of the evening.  This drink contained no ice and was in a glass twice the size of the others. “Thank you,” Ceil said.  “I don’t want you to think . . . I mean, I don’t drink like this all the time.”

“I don’t care if you do.” Eyes on her face, the bartender kissed her hand.  “Merry Christmas,” he said only to her, dismissing Alex as if his seat were empty.

“I didn’t know you drank beer,” Dulce said to Alex.

“Usually I drink ‘New Amsterdam,’ ” Alex said, “But they don’t serve it here.”

“You see,” Ceil said too loudly, “He’s convinced that ‘New Amsterdam’ is the kind of beer Dylan Thomas would be drinking if he were still alive.  Your boss feels that if Dylan Thomas were still alive, the two of them would be hobnobbing with the rest of the twentieth-century intellectual elite, or . . .” she went on with a cruel smile, “Just hanging out alone together drinking cases of the stuff and sneaking lines in men’s rooms.”

For a moment Elena thought Alex was going to slap Ceil.  What he did was stranger.  Grabbing Ceil’s hand, he squeezed it till she let go of the drink. Then he placed her hand on his face, the length of her nails making his hand seem even smaller.  Ceil worked one finger into her mouth.  The look they shared turned Elena’s stomach.

“I’d . . . appreciate it if you girls keep this to yourselves,” Alex said quietly, tying his tie.

“We’ll be glad to,” Dulce said, for both of them.

Ceil’s next smile actually scared Elena.  “He means his wife, poor, sainted thing.  Loves him just too much for sanity.  Do you know she sleeps with her leg crossed over his so he can’t escape in the middle of the night?”

Alex choked on his beer.  “You bitch.”

Ceil took a ladylike sip of her own drink.  “Even changed her religion to marry him.  Sold her soul to a man who makes her trim his hair so he can afford a manicure.  And look at the mess she made. . . .”

“You made a worse mess,” Alex said before he could stop himself, “With your nails.”

Ceil’s hand returned to Alex’s cheek.  Smiling again, she followed the fading scratches with the tips of her nails.  “I’m sorry.”

Elena put down her drink.  She couldn’t take anymore.  Dulce had stopped drinking as well. 

“Alex is giving me up for Christmas,” Ceil announced without releasing his face.  “It’s his present to her.”  Her hand fell to his tie-clip.  Tracing the gold “A,” she whispered, “That’s how much he loves her.” Then she turned to her two friends, her eyes filled with tears.  “And I thought he loved me.”

Alex eased his tie out of Ceil’s grasp and got up.  “I have to call home,” he said on his way out.

“Don’t cry, Ceil,” Dulce said, sliding into Alex’s seat.

“Did he tell you he loved you?” Elena asked.

“And what if he did?” Ceil laughed, suddenly.  “Would that change anything?”

Elena followed Ceil’s wild eyes to the ornamented moose head.  “Lucky little bastards,” Ceil said, referring to the string of Santas.  “Hanging out up there away from it all.  Knowing all our secrets.  Do they know what you want for Christmas?”

“No,” Elena said. To her, the little Santas looked crazed.

“Ceil,” Dulce said, “Why did you let this happen?  How did it all start?”

“Forget it, Ceil,” Elena said gently, “It’s none of our business.”

Ceil and the bartender exchanged sad smiles.  “How many?” he asked, and she held up three fingers that the young man couldn’t resist matching with his own.  “Just three?” he said, removing the Beck’s.  She nodded.

“You can keep the change,” she said, when he’d brought the drinks.  “He won’t be back.”

“Oh, Ceil!” Elena said, but there was an unmistakable finality to the neatly-stacked bills, all facing in the same direction.

“I knew it when he checked his coat . . . and wouldn’t check mine . . .” Ceil pulled her coat out from under Dulce’s.  “Because it has a fur collar.”  She buried her face in the white fox fur.  “I knew hours ago.”

By now, most of the other customers had left, and Elena could see the hallway outside.  It seemed the trains were back on schedule.  She wondered what her mother was thinking had happened to her.

Just then she remembered Christmas Eve long ago at her grandmother’s house: her thrice-divorced Aunt Carmen wearing mistletoe in her black hair; her father’s sudden disappearance; her mother’s despair and eventual breakdown.  Elena had seen her father and aunt share looks—some stinging, some deliberately vacant, some that, to an eight-year-old girl, meant, “Some day we’ll commit the perfect murder.”

Elena had forgotten most of her favorite dolls and even the eyeless, shaggy, once-blue bear she’d slept with every night for years, but never the intensity of those looks.  Tito had never looked at her that way, and she would be willing to bet her job that Alex—with or without glasses and his band-aid-taped wedding ring—never wasted any on his windblown wife.

“What a cheap gift,” Elena whispered.

 

 

“Holiday Cheer” originally appeared in The Village Idiot, Copyright © 1991, published by Mother of Ashes Press.
 

 

 

 

 

 

    

missyou.jpg
Art by Gin E L Fenton

Miss You
 
Cindy Rosmus
 

You didn’t think it’d hurt this much. That you’d feel so strange. 

Nauseous, though there’s nothing in you to come up.  It’s like chunks of your gut and heart were carved out.

Of all places, you’re out on the stoop.  Instead of playing it safe.  Jumping on that “bus from hell” to the City, or the train that’d get you to the Airlink.  Still, without luggage, you’d look damn suspicious, booking a flight. 

And where would you go?

Already you’re biting your lip.  Scared the truth will burst out.  That the first person who asks, you’ll tell.

It’s September.  Squirrel season.  Before you, they scurry around, duck under cars, shoot up trees, making those hissy, squirrel-y noises.  But always watching you.

They know.  And they’d tell, too.  Cats could give a shit; cats are “live-and-let-live,” but not these acorn-hoarding little fucks.

Squirrel-y tails high in the air, they saw it all from his window.  The basement window you’re seated beside.  Balls, you have, to be sitting right next to his window

. . . .

After killing him.

 

*     *     *

 

Todo está bien,” he would purr.  “It’s all good, Liz.” Wide, dark eyes filling up with you. Then laugh his obnoxious laugh. 

God, how you hated that!  What was good about anything, since you met him?  Since he took that big, fat shit on your life?

A leave of absence, you took from work.  A “mental health” leave, from your social services job.  How humilating.  But how could you help others when you were one step from the padded room, yourself?

Things had been good, before.  With that shield around you. Like four walls of ice that protected you.  Work, eat, sleep. . . . On weekends drink, sometimes way too much, then sleep, with married regulars from the bar, Spit’s.  Only you never really slept. . . .

“With married guys,” you used to brag, “You know what you get.” You were single, and liked it that way.  Liked being a “safe haven” for husbands.

“To be like Liz,” Maggie, the barmaid said about you, right in front of you. “That’s what I want.  Not to give a shit about nobody.  This way, guys can’t hurt you.” You smiled, wisely. 

Rafael was single, too.  And he dug married chicks.  “Womens,” he called them.  He was almost like a male you.

Almost . . .

The day you met him, something happened to you.  It was like getting hit by a truck, but dying slowly.

And where you met him . . . was the cruelest stroke of luck. 

In the cellar.  Rafael was your new super.

Spanish music blasting, he was salsa-ing as he mopped the floor, using the mop as his partner.  Not your typical stud. 

You watched him, transfixed.  This tall, skinny fuck, dirty-dancing with a mop.  He’s not even cute, you thought.  Too much forehead, a goatee that made his chin look dirty.  Dark hair too curly, and fright wig-looking.  Glasses that would’ve made somebody else look smart. 

But when he looked at you . . .

You went down in a split.

A real one, like a cheerleader, in high school.  Back then you were never popular, couldn’t do a split.  Now down you went, like his eyes commanded it.

The floor was slippery, you told yourself.  Bullshit.  He willed you down.

Mommi!” Real concerned, he sounded.  “Baby, you okay?”

Across the room, he’d been, but suddenly was right there, with you.  On your elbow, his touch was electric, magical.  You were back on your feet, you swear just from that.

“Baby?” Up close, he was better-looking.  It was the eyes: big and brown. And warm.  Nights in the tropics, you thought of, though you’ve never been there.  Magnified by those glasses, they should’ve been a turn-off.

“I’m . . . okay,” you said.  Why couldn’t you look away?

“O-kay?” Those eyes were laughing.  Ba-by . . . ” Three times he’d called you that, now.  Like you were his.

You shivered.

“You’re more than okay.”  With his fist, he tapped your chin, lovingly. “Sweetheart, eres  . . . buena.”

 

*     *     *

 

Sometimes . . .

He held you, like he’d never let go.  You talked . . . about real life.  How you hated your job.  “Don’t take no shit!” was his advice.  “Baby, you’re worth more than that.”  Those wide eyes convinced you.

If you were sick, or hurt, wasn’t he worried?  “What’s that?” he demanded, of bandaids on your arm, or leg.  “Where’d you get that?” Your heart swelled, that he cared that much.

And the worst: “You take your medicine?” Almost angry, that you needed it.  That, smart as you were, you still didn’t “have it together.”  Your smile relieved him. But usually you . . . didn’t. 

Those pills made you feel . . . strange.

 

*     *     *

 

 

“It’s like,” you hear yourself say, “He put a spell on me!”

Santeria, or something.  Nah, he’d never been out that way.  He was Puerto-Rican.  From Jersey City, yet.  Not into fancy hocus-pocus.  

“Rafael?” This is one dumb shrink. “The man you killed?”

You’re almost amused.  But laughter triggers off tears.  Like a marionette, you are.  Somebody’s always pulling your strings.  “That’s him.”

Why else would you be here, bound?  In this room with marshmallow walls?

“A love spell?” She can’t be that stupid.  “With a lock of your hair?”  She fingers her own blonde curls.  “And candles, and shit?”

You just look at her.  If she is that stupid, none of this is real. 

Behind you, you try to loosen your hands, realize they’re free.

As you study them, you know this is a dream.  Maybe a vision.

“Rafael? My Rafael?” This shrink-who’s-not-really-a-shrink is Marilyn.  Rival Number Two.  “But he’s not dead!” Wild-eyed.  Panic-stricken.  “He’s . . . not . . . dead!”  Grabs you, digging her long nails in you, till she draws blood.

But you feel no pain.

“Not yet,” you tell the Dream-Marilyn.

 

*     *     *

 

 

Blondes, he dug, more than anything else.  Trish, the gap-toothed one, had short, sandy hair.  Marilyn, a bleached, outgrown perm.  Rivals # One and Two.

Only you had black hair.  Jet-black, and straight.  But it was falling out, big-time.

Stress, you thought. 

Your black hair was all over his house.  Nobody’s but yours.  Unless Cher had dropped in for a fast fuck.

In his bed, he was sprawled, nude.  As he collected long black hairs from the pillow, he wasn’t smiling. “That’s not good,” he said.

You looked away, embarrassed.  Your guy, you feel, should never know your secrets: your weight, your true feelings.  This . . . shedding.  Like a cancer victim, you felt. Instead of an “hysterical pregnancy,” maybe it’s “hysterical cancer.”  You’d start wasting away.  Soon you’d be a hairless sack of bones.

Then he’d be sorry! you thought.  Boldly, you wrapped yourself in the covers.

“Stop that!” He yanked them off you.  Eyes blazing.  “What’ll Trish think, if she finds these?”

Your long, black hairs.  Not that many, really.  Just enough to fuck him.

“Or the cops,” you joked. 

Qué?” He was really pissed, now. “Estás diciendo?

“They’ll think,” you said gleefully, “I killed you.”

 

*     *     *

 

It’s close to eleven.  Almost an hour has passed.

When his clock chimed ten, he was still breathing.  Blood pumping to his heart.  Now that heart is dead meat.

 At ten, he had a shot.  ‘Cos you got him nervous. 

Blackhaus.  Like a spiked jelly donut, it tasted.  After he gulped it, remember you grabbed and kissed him?

You can still taste both: the kiss and the shot.

How weird, you think.  How you can still taste somebody . . . and they’re dead.

When that clock chimes eleven, will you hear it from out here?  Your post on the stoop.  Staring up at the squirrel-gray sky. 

When the sun was out last, he’d squinted from it.  Searched for his shades, his favorite prescriptions, the real dark ones.  “Dope glasses,” he’d called them, laughing.

But they were upstairs, in your apartment.

“Go get them!” Again, the eyes blazing.  Trish paid for those glasses.”

Trish . . . Trish . . . Trish . . .

 

*     *     *

 

 

“Liz, can you believe it?” He seemed so amused.  “They’re jealous of each other!”

Like a clenched fist, your heart felt. “Trish and Marilyn,” he said, smirking.  Like you’d never heard this before.

Even, in your apartment, in your bed, he loved torturing you. Rubbing shit in.  “Marilyn knew she was there, so she just showed up.  To fuck things up.”  He leaned across you for his smokes and lighter. Kissed you on the tit. “Can you believe that shit?” he said through his cigarette.  “To just show up?”

You would’ve, too.  But he’d never know it.  You smirked back. “That’s fucked up.”

No commitments, was your agreement.  Well, his. You didn’t mind sharing.  Long’s you had a piece of him . . .

If he knew how you really felt, he’d be gone.

“If I had to choose between the three of you’z,” he began.

No, you thought.  Not again. Your heart raced.

But, as he tightened his arm around you, really cuddled you . . .

Me? you thought, not daring to relax. Not yet. Would it be me?

“I’d say . . .” Your eyes were shut tight, but you felt him staring. Felt his breath on your cheek.  Trish.”

Skinned alive, you felt.  You wished he’d leave, right then, before you cried.

“We both love to dance.”  Tears burned your eyes.  You remembered him dancing with that mop. “She’s a wild thing.  Loves to fuck.  And such a tight . . . ass!”

He had to see your tears.  Still, he went on. “And she does so much for me, man . . .”

 

*     *     *

 

 

But it wasn’t just sex, you’ll tell somebody.  The warden.  A real shrink, this time.  Anybody who’ll listen. 

That first time was so . . . special.

His touch: on just your elbow had thrilled you.  But, on your clit.  Oh, man!  And . . . Oh, God, what that tongue could do!

His cock.  Bent, it was, from some shit he got into, years back.  “Kid stuff,” he called it. 

But how you sucked it was no kid stuff.  “Oh, Mommi!” he gasped.  Eyes twice their size.  His sweaty chest jerked back. “Qué rico!”

All day, you could suck that curvy cock, from all angles.  His little nuts, too.  He couldn’t crack a beer, light a cigarette, without you grabbing at him. You could live on that cock.  Who needs food? you thought.

How you sucked him, was how he fucked you.  In positions even you’d never tried!  Fucked you like he hated you.  Like he knew you loved him.  Like if he fucked you hard enough, he’d kill it.

But, after . . .

He held you, whispering . . . in Spanish!  That made it sweeter, or spicier, like how flan was richer than pudding.  Whispered throaty nothings in that language you always hated.  Spic talk, your folks had called it, when you were growing up.  You had no use for it, then . . .

His last words were in Spanish. . . .

Before he got sliced.

 

*     *     *

 

 

“When me n’ Trish come in, remember . . .” Those eyes meant business. “You don’t know me, girl.” Your heart sunk.

S’ bad enough he took over your home.  But your bar? 

For years, Spit’s was your place!  If you were short on cash, you ran a tab.  When the jukebox got old, the owner asked you for song updates. “Miss You,” that old Stones tune, was your favorite.

 Maggie, the barmaid, was your friend!  When jealous wives showed up, eager to kill you, Maggie warned you, in code.  “Can you babysit tonight?” would show up on your voicemail.  You’d know.  And if your latest fling stopped in . . . “Don’t forget to take out the garbage.”

But now . . .

Rafael ruled.  Dancing around, twirling the pool stick, running secret card games in the back . . . he was “The Man.” Buying rounds, leaving fat tips for the bartenders, the fattest for Maggie. 

“You sure?” Maggie asked him, as she pocketed the twenty. 

“I’m sure, baby.”  Baby, again.  As he took her hand, you felt electricity surging.  “I know if I ever need help . . .” He flashed that smile.  “You got my back.”

And cock, you thought, seething with jealousy.  How you hated Maggie, now! 

He didn’t work.  Not really.  Beyond the super’s job, nothing you knew of.  So where’d he get all that money?

 Trish?

As “Just a Gigolo” came on his radio, you began to wonder.

“You hear me, Liz?” His sharp tone brought you back to reality.  “When we come in that place, stay away from us!”

You forced a smile.  Lately, you even sickened yourself.  And “Sure,” had a sob behind it.

 

*     *     *

 

Somehow, you knew it’d be tonight. 

All day long, no word from him.  Mid-morning, well, you knew that was Trish-time!  Eleven, eleven-thirty, you knew what he was up to.  That stupid husband of hers dropped her off, in front of your building. 

“Thinks I’m a chick.”  Rafael always howled with laughter.  “Her sister’s friend.”  Then he got serious.  “Liz, you just don’t know . . .” He gripped your elbows. 

Your heart raced, thinking maybe he’d kiss you.

“What she goes through.  He beats her!”

Wonder why. You tried not to smile.

“Well, here I am,” he said, “To save the day!”

And this day he wasn’t calling you, or even answering his cell.  If your ceiling fell down, you’d sit there, covered with rubble.  All the tenants he ignored, when his cock tripped him.  Hey, he ignored them, when he was with you.

But today he wasn’t.

 The sickest part was, you wanted to see her.  Live.  Her photo on his nightstand wasn’t bad enough. The short, blonde hairs entangled with your long black ones in his bed.

Wanted her to see you.

 

*     *     *

 

 

“Rafael?” As she poured the chick’s wine, Maggie’s tone was casual.  “No, I haven’t seen him.”

With hatred, you eyed this chick.  Curly blonde perm, too much make-up. Perched on that barstool, she looked at least six feet tall.  But harmless.  She wasn’t out to kick ass.  Her eyes brimmed with tears.

Marilyn, you realized.  Rival Number Two.  Suddenly, your hatred was gone. You felt like sending her a drink.

Instead, you sucked down your shot and went for the jukebox.

When the side door buzzed open, without turning around, you knew it was them. 

The Stones came on, loud.  Still, you heard everything.

“What happened to you?” Marilyn.  Frantic, at the end of her rope.  Like you would’ve sounded.

“Shut up!” Him. “You crazy?  What’d I tell you about coming in here?”

 Your neck hurt from looking straight ahead.  But where was Trish?

You jumped.  Literally “in your face” was a face: small, with glassy eyes and a gap-toothed smile.  “Play me a song!” she said. “Something I can dance to!”

Her. 

As “Miss You” came on, she said, “Fuckin-A!” And started dancing.

“Marilyn,” you heard, in his poisonous tone.  “Get out, and don’t come back, you hear?”

Her tortured sob gave you chills.  The door buzzed open, and then he was right next to you, at the jukebox.  Your heart leapt.

Ignoring you, he punched in a song, then turned to Trish.  “C’mere, baby,” he purred.

He’d played your last song.  Out of your money.

As they danced together to “Miss You,” the words hit you, as if for the first time.  Something about “lying to yourself,” and how you loved him, and nobody else.  And something else . . .

About being crazy . . .

 

*     *     *

 

 

When you woke up the next day, you knew it was over.

The lack of sun, though it’d rained on and off for four days.  But there was something different about this day.  Rain drumming on your a/c seemed to warn you.  It was supposed to clear up later, but you didn’t care.  Life as you knew it was history.

Home alone, you acted different.  No music blasting, no TV either.  If you were extra quiet, maybe he wouldn’t say it.  If you lay there in the dark, he might think you were out, or . . . dead.

You couldn’t go out, without him hearing you.  I always know when it’s you, Mommi, he said smugly, months back, when things were good between you.  When you dump your garbage, or wash your clothes . . . Baby, I know.

Why, you asked God, did he have to move here?

Your phone hadn’t rung. No news is good news, you thought, for the first time ever.

As the day wore on, you felt worse.  Shivers so bad, you couldn’t take it.  Fear, you smelled, like gas from your faulty burners. 

Oh, God, you thought then, what if there’s a fire?

Then you were crying.  No matter how long you avoided him, it was coming. 

Your garbage stunk.  So out you went, with it.

Heart pounding, you passed his windows.  Lighted, cheery-looking, in this rain, on any other day.  At his kitchen table, he was, alone, on his cell.  His back to you, but you knew he saw you.

You rushed back inside, but not fast enough.

On the stairs, he was, blocking your way.  “Gotta talk to you,” came out weary.  Like the bomb he’d drop would wipe him out, too.

 

You just stared.

“Me n’ Trish, okay?” he said, real fast.  “It’s just us from now on.  Okay?” Now he looked scared.  “Just me n’ her.” 

When you didn’t answer, he looked even scareder.  The burners, you were thinking about. The ones that wouldn’t light.  You felt yourself smiling.

“I mean it, Liz.  She’s leaving her husband.  This weekend.  Moving in here.  Downstairs, with me . . .”

He was still talking, as you walked away.

“Liz?” He followed you to your door, which you slammed in his face.

“Mommi?” you swore he said next. 

After that, you don’t remember.

       

*     *     *

 

Paint, you smelled, when you woke up this morning.

Stinky semi-gloss.  And you knew where it was coming from.  Not upstairs.  That stuck-up chick . . . the fireman who was always off hunting . . . none of your second floor neighbors were that ambitious.

Just him downstairs.

Of course he’d be painting.  For her.

What colors would they choose?  Pretty pastels?  Mauve, she might like, for their bedroom.  Or a rich plum. 

But him . . . Mustard yellow, tangerine, lime-green . . . Spic colors, your folks called them.  A combination, maybe.  Like Easter eggs all over San Juan.

Up in bed, you sat, sniffing the air. Could you tell colors apart by the smell?

One spic color from the next?

Sad, isn’t it, you worked for Social Services.  Before you went nuts.  Most clients Spanish, or black.  You, they all said, had no prejudice.  Dug people for who they were. Took shit to heart.  Had their backs.

Rafael, you thought, what’d you do to me?

Tears . . . oh God, would they never stop?  Like a hot shower you couldn’t shut off.  Deep, gasp-y tears.  Like with each bout, your heart would come up.

Abandoned baby tears.   Human, and animal.  Kittens, you saw, drowning in those tears.  Through eyes so swollen, bees might’ve stung them.

Then, suddenly, the tears just . . . stopped.

And you smiled.

In a flash, it came to you.  He doesn’t know, you realized, that I love him!  You never told him!  If you had . . .

You hopped out of bed.  Even made it, with fresh sheets.  Humming.

He would’ve chose me. . . .

 

     

*     *     *

 

 

“¿Quién es?” he said, when you knocked on his door.

You didn’t answer. 

Dizzy, you were, from the stench of paint.  And not eating, the past few days.  Just soup.  You couldn’t even drink.

The door flew open; his face fell.  “Liz.” 

Your forced smile stopped him from shutting that door.  He’s got to think, a little voice said, you’re happy!  With or without him.

Still, he looked wary.  Never, you thought, had he looked so hot.  So… Spanish.  In your favorite t-shirt.  Once white, now it was splattered with paint.  Avocado green.

Your smile works, finally.  He flashes his own.  Even his glasses are speckled with paint.

“I smelled paint,” you said.  “Figured it was you.” Your voice sounds choked. It’s the most you’d spoken in days.

“Yeah,” he said, almost shyly.  Still gripping the door, he couldn’t look at you.  “Just getting shit ready.”

Should’ve picked me.  Smiling made your face ache.  “It’s a pretty color.”

His chest-hair was splotched with paint, too. “Wanna come in?” he said.  “And see the place?”

Sorry, he was, the instant he said it.  You just knew it.  But it was too late.

Inside, you smelled her over the paint.  So strongly, she might’ve been there.  But she wasn’t. 

Too early for her, you thought, as the clock chimed. . . . That clock she gave him . . . That . . . chick’s clock.  Nine, or was it ten o’clock?

God, you hated that clock.  Like you hated her face.  That smug, gap-toothed . . .

As he looked nervously at you, your smile returned.

Chick-shit, there was, all over the place.  A lacy pink bra draped over a chair. (“¡Me encantan tus tetas!” he’d once told you.) Makeup, hairspray, on the kitchen counter.  Chick-shit everywhere, except . . .

“Which room?” you asked.

As he gestured to the bedroom, he seized the bottle. Blackhaus, he needed, bad.  You scared him, but he wasn’t sure why.  In his face, you saw it.  In how fast he downed that shot.

Like something bad was coming at him, fast.

He went with you, into that room.  Carrying the bottle.  One shot wasn’t enough, not with you here.

Old newspapers rustled beneath you.  He lifted one slippered foot, saw paint on the sole. You watched him, closely.

On the dresser, he set the bottle. Next to the knife.

A carpet knife, it was, though he had no carpet.  With this scary, triangular blade.  For scraping old paint, maybe.

He grabbed it.  

Your eyes met.  “I love you!” you said, at last. 

“Mommi,” he said wearily, holding the knife behind him.  Please!”

He was begging.  For you.  Your heart swelled.

Behind his back, he struggled with the knife.  Trying to close it, maybe.

Was there time, before she got here?  For a kiss?

You’d make time!

As you lunged, he dropped it.  Your kiss nearly choked him; he reacted.  Shoved you away.  Hard.  Papers rustled wildly, as you stumbled, but stopped yourself from falling.

Then just looked at him.

 Glasses all crooked, as he wiped his mouth, over and over, disgusted.  Like your kiss was shit.  “Well, I . . . love . . . her,” he said.

You kept staring.

Then snatched it up. 

And flew. . . .

Slashed his neck from a crazy angle.

The right one.  Blood poured out, splashed your face!  For a moment, you were blinded by red.  Covered your eyes, then saw what you did.

Blood everywhere.  On his t-shirt, glasses, hands. Eyes wild.  Glasses knocked off, as he clutched his neck, tried to save himself. From between his hands, a red fountain, like an offering to you.  Please, he begged silently, help me, baby. I love you, too.  Till now, I didn’t know how much . . .

Even the walls had blood on them.  But, how? you wondered.  Those new green walls. Like Christmas was coming.  Holly and berries, you thought, almost cheerfully.

He went down, gasping. “¡Me mataste!”

And, finally, you understood.

 

*     *     *

     

An endless shower, you took, but why?

Long, black hairs, saliva, fingerprints, they were all down there.  What could you say?  You’ll never get out of this.

Your ass hurts, from sitting on the stoop.  You shift your position, glance down at his window.

From the curb, a squirrel watches you.  Then ducks under your neighbor’s car.

From inside comes a mournful sound.  Chimes.  Just for fun, you start counting: one . . . two . . . three . . .

Up the block, somebody is coming.

The gap-toothed one.

From under the car, the squirrel peeks at you, then disappears.  Your smile scares it.

As she gets closer, you sprawl on the stoop.  She won’t remember you, from Spit’s.  Never knew you both shared his bed. 

With the third . . .

The clock stopped chiming, but you’re still counting.  “Womens,” instead of hours.

So much shit, she’s carrying, for the big move. Sheets and stuff.  Green and white, is the new color scheme.

As she reaches for her keys, she drops her purse. 

It’s red.  You snatch it up, smiling, as you hand it to her.

“Thanks!” she says, as she goes inside.

With her mucho short, blonde hairs.  Mucho fingerprints.  Mucho saliva.

And thank you . . .  you think, affectionately now.

. . . For sharing.

 

 

foolsdrunks.jpg
Art by John and Flo Stanton

Fools and Drunks and Me and You
 
Cindy Rosmus

For Dave, Margaret, & Richie

 

 

The summer of ’83, I was never more conscious of being broke as shit.  Broke, drunk every day, and—I didn’t realize it till now—pretty happy.

 

            There we were—me, Freddy, Francine, and Nicky—full-time students who rarely went to class.  Part-time workers who hardly went to work.  Fourth-floor neighbors in this shit building up the block from Liberty State College. 

 

Needless to say, Liberty State was a shit school.  They’d let anybody in.  It was the era of the “foreign student,” and if you spoke English, you were a genius, right there. 

 

Me, I was an English major.  A writer, yet.  Back then I scrawled stories in notebooks, jammed them under my bed.  Why would I type them? Who’d want to publish them?  Who’d want to read the ravings of a needy, drunken slob?

 

Me,” Freddy told me.  “Like, what else would I read?”

 

Not his media arts text, that’s for sure.  The week before, he’d sold it back to the college store.  So much for summer school.  For spite, his dad was late sending Freddy’s check.  We needed money for beer now.

 

Also, he’d been fired from Shop Rite . . . for shoplifting!  That was at Path Mark, but the fuckers at Path Mark figured they’d really fix Freddy and call his boss.  So Shop Rite would look bad.  Man, did they!

 

All Freddy had stolen was a half-pound of salami.  He’d stuffed it down his pants, but was gonna pay for the two Portuguese rolls. “I stole it for you!” he’d told me, so I’d feel guilty.  Big deal.  This time I’d got stuck buying all the beer.

 

Worse yet, my mom was wise to me.  She’d been sending me money like mad, till she finally realized I owed her.  A vicious circle, you know?  As fast as she sent it, we drank it.  I hated going to my work-study job.  Why work just to pay somebody back?  Somebody who’d give you even more money, if you played sick, or sad.  I was great at both.

 

“Shelley, I got an idea!” Freddy said. That always meant trouble.  “Lemme use your phone.”  His was cut off; guess why?

 

When he hung up with his dad, he was giggling like a lunatic.  “Two hundred bucks, he’s sending!”

 

I had to sit down.  That was more than Freddy’s rent. 

 

“I got you pregnant,” he explained.  “You need an abortion.”

 

“What?” I yelled.  “You never touched me!”

 

He sneered.  “He don’t know that!”

 

I got up, paced around the coffee table.  “That’s terrible!”

 

“Worked in high school.”  He was trying to justify it.  “Said I knocked up Roseanne Massi.  Never touched her, either.”

 

“What about Francine? Can’t she lend you money?” Francine actually had some saved.  Her boyfriend Nicky had let it slip.

 

“She’s not that stupid!” Freddy said.  Then, real indignant, “What’s up your ass?”

 

“You used me!  Not Francine.  Or anybody else.  You lied about me!” I couldn’t stress that enough.  He was more than a drinking buddy.  Freddy was my best friend, the brother I never had.  Just the thought of us doing it was…well, incestuous.

 

“Too late now.”  He headed for the door.  “I’ll just have to drink alone.”

 

I beat him to the door, blocking it.  “My ass!”  I told him.

 

*     *     *

 

The night I met Freddy, the September before, it was 2AM.  No, later.  The bar had closed at 2, but I was making out with Mike Cassidy in the foyer for so long, you heard birds chirping outside. 

 

“Do you think,” I asked him, “We’re in love?”  Like a fool!

 

“Uh-huh!” He was even drunker than me.  A short Mick Jagger, he looked like, with the same lips, but these slanty eyes, like he was part Chinese, or just real stoned.  “I’ll bet we are!”

 

If I wasn’t so dumb, I’d have brought him upstairs, and fucked him senseless.  But back then, I thought guys wanted more than just sex.  That they had souls, watched sunsets and shit.  Could love you for real, at first sight.

 

I left him in the foyer with a rock hard-on and a look of such disbelief, I can still see it.  With this shit- eating grin, I waltzed my drunk ass up four flights of stairs.  What a fool I was!  And so bombed, I was scared to let go of the banister.

 

On the fourth floor landing, I weaved, almost fell backwards down the stairs.

 

Hey!” I heard, from across the hallway.  This skinny guy with wild red hair.  Freddy.  Though by now I saw two of him. 

 

He ran over and grabbed my arm.  “Four-o-four,” I tried telling him, but I was slurring so bad, it sounded like “Boy, oh boy!”

 

“S’all right,” I think he said.  He was slurring, too.  If you’re both fucked up, there’s no hope, period.  It was like we were two non-skaters on roller skates for the first time. 

 

He lived right next to me.  Since 2AM he’d been trying to unlock his door, which was actually mine.  When he realized his mistake, he smiled, wisely. 

 

Nice meeting you, Red, I swore I told him.  But it came out, “I-she-you-dead.”

 

Either way, he was delighted. 

 

*     *     *

 

“In this heat?” Freddy asked Francine.  “You gotta iron now?”

 

She smirked.  Freddy, Nicky, and I were sprawled on her bed, under the silent a/c.  A few minutes ago, it was nice and cool.  Now, thanks to her, sweat beaded on our faces and arms.

 

            “Can’tcha hurry up, or something?” Nicky’s voice was pleading.  The look she gave him shut him up fast.

 

            It was the hottest day yet, and only she had a/c.  Miss Perfect.  She was pretty, sensible, and actually paid her bills.  She was sick to shit of us, but who cared?  In an emergency, you shared with your friends.  Your last cigarette, can of beer, or a cold blast of air.  No matter. 

 

            As the iron heated, we tried to lay still.  Outside, you heard water rushing, and kids yelling.  Somebody had busted open a hydrant.  Lucky them, I thought, glaring at Francine.

 

Figures she’d be the one with the air.  It took her an hour to iron her jeans.  First she had to crease them.  Then she ironed the pockets, and between the belthooks.  Then she did everything all over again.

 

            Hot as it was, Nicky reached over and grabbed his guitar.  The acoustic one, since we were fucked if we blew a fuse.  For a long time, he strummed the guitar without singing.  For a Liberty State music major, he was pretty spiritual.  Despite his punked-out hair, he wrote songs that were closer to hymns.

 

“So,” Francine said, picking up the iron at last, “What’ll we buy for our big barbecue?” Before we could answer, she added, “With the money Freddy stole from his dad!”

 

“I didn’t steal it!”

 

“You lied,” she said smugly.  “That’s just like stealing.”

 

“Beer and wine,” I said.  “We can get a whole shitload for that kind of money.” The guys nodded. 

 

“I mean food!”  Disgusted, Francine actually stopped ironing.

 

“Food?” Freddy sounded horrified. 

 

“What kind of meat?” She picked up the iron again.  “Steaks? Ribs?  There’s a sale down at…”

 

“We don’t even have a grill!” I said.

 

“One of those little ones, we’ll get, from K-Mart,” Francine said.  That’s where she worked, as a cashier.

 

“Okay.  A pack of dogs, and a few cans of beans!” Freddy said.

 

“I’ll make a nice big salad,” Francine said in this hypnotic voice. Only she could sound dreamy about making a salad.  And stop ironing on top of it. “With beefsteak tomatoes, and nice crisp lettuce…”

 

A drop of sweat landed on the guitar. “Put on the air, damn it!” Nicky said, finally.

 

“Don’t yell at me.” She went back to ironing, slower, if you ask me.  “No, really,” she told Freddy, “Give me the money, and I’ll shop.”

 

“How much?” We were both suspicious.

 

Instead of answering, she said, “Nick . . . You’ll help carry everything, won’t you?”

 

What could he say?  He had no job and was living with her.  It was her apartment.  Everything in it: the orange tweed furniture, the a/c, even the hated iron, was hers.  Only that guitar was his.  You could tell he hated looking up from it. 

 

But he loved her. 

 

That smile was his answer.

 

*     *     *

 

            Home.  The most beautiful four-letter word. 

 

            Mine was the worst.  I hated to clean, and pick up after myself.  Everywhere you looked were crushed beer cans, books, clothes, silverware.  If you needed a fork, try the night table.  My kitchen table was so cluttered, Francine wouldn’t sit at it. 

 

“Looks fine to me.” Freddy felt right at home.  His kitchen was painted lime-green.  The ceiling leaked tar from the roof, which made the olive rug stick to the floor.

 

“Who,” Francine said distastefully, “Puts a shag rug in their kitchen?”

 

“Not me!” Freddy was insulted.  The previous tenant had done it. 

 

And brought roaches.  Thanks to him, we all had them. 

 

Even Francine. The cleanest one of us, and that bugged her the most.  “You,” she said to Freddy, “never wash dishes!  Leave filthy pots on the stove.  You deserve roaches.  But me . . .” She started to cry. 

 

We hated that.  She was our Rock of Gibraltar.  Like Wendy in Peter Pan, she was our mother, almost.  When Freddy got a splinter, who did he run to?  When Mike Cassidy never called me, it was Francine who said, “Don’t worry, Shel.  He’ll be back.”

 

You’re better off, Freddy had told me, without that fucking drunk!

 

*     *     *

 

Roaches or not, the four of us lived at Francine’s.  Even without a/c, it would’ve been our group home. The talks we had, we might’ve been hippies.

 

“If there’s a God . . .” Freddy cracked a beer. “Why’s there so much suffering in the world?”

 

‘’Cos you’re in it!” I joked.

 

Suffering?” Francine said.  She was rolling a joint.  Occasionally we could afford a dime bag. “What do you know about suffering?  You cut your finger, and Daddy writes you a check!”  Freddy laughed. 

 

“Free will,” said Reverend Nicky.  “God never said life would be easy.”

 

We all sat for a while, just nodding.  Nicky could do that to you.  If we were hippies, he’d’ve been our guru.  Deep down, we all believed the same stuff.  Even Freddy, who just liked playing Devil’s Advocate.

 

I sipped my beer, felt nice and high.  In my own fridge, a couple were stashed, so I wasn’t panic-stricken.  I could actually think.

 

People talked about changing the world.  But how?  All we could do was live our own lives, try not to shit on anyone else’s.  But I guess if we all thought that way

. . . .

 

I brightened.  A spiritual awakening, I guess this was.  We could share, too, I thought, as Francine passed me the joint.  But didn’t we already? 

 

Not enough, I realized.  In my mind, those beers behind the mayo reminded me of something wild.  The miracle, I was thinking, of the loaves and two fishes.

 

“Amen,” I said.  But by now they were stoned.

 

*     *     *

 

            Avoiding Dolly, the super, wasn’t easy.  She didn’t miss a trick.  Maybe being legally blind helped her smell trouble. 

 

            The roof was the only place we could barbecue.  The one place she never snooped. We’d have to sneak the grill up there.

 

            “Frederick!” she’d said, the day before.  “Is this yours?”  In the hallway she’d found an empty V-O bottle.

 

            “Hell, no!” Freddy sounded disgusted.  “I don’t drink whiskey.”  Then he snickered.  “Can’t’cha read?”

 

            “You fuck!” Dolly went to smack him, but I grabbed the bottle.

 

Dolly looked like Lucille Ball with thick cat’s eye glasses. Freddy looked more like her than her own son Billy did. 

 

He was the culprit, Billy.  Always drunk in the building somewhere.  She just couldn’t see him. 

 

If anybody creeped me out, it was him.  Ice-blue eyes, he had, like those aliens from sci fi flicks.  Aliens who married you, but only you knew the truth.  You always felt Billy was lurking around.  Or under your bed, or something. . . .

 

“You’d better be good!” Dolly warned Freddy, who laughed all the way down the hall.

 

*     *     *

 

            Finally. . . . 

 

Beers in coolers, wine in my fridge.  The meat and stuff was in Francine’s.  And what cool shit she bought: burgers, dogs, Italian sausage.  Even a London Broil!  Too bad she liked it burned to a crisp.  But on the grill, anything tasted great. 

 

            “No chicken!” Freddy had warned her that morning.  We were sick of chicken.  For months we’d live on baked chicken legs and canned potatoes.

 

            “And just one tomato!” His voice echoed in the hallway.

 

            “Shut up!” I told him.  “Nobody else’s supposed to know.”

 

We weren’t greedy; we just never had much to share.  Not food, anyway.  It was disgusting how we hid beers from each other. 

 

            “Okay,” I said, feeling guilty.  “Invite who you want.”

 

            “Dolly!” he said, and snickered. 

 

I opened the fridge, looked longingly at the wine. “That’s all we need.”

 

*     *     *

 

Up on the roof, burgers and dogs sizzled on the tiny grill.  We’d brought up

my ancient coffee table, and set the grill on that. 

 

When Freddy and Nicky carried the table out, one of its legs fell off.  I carried it up after them.  That no roaches were on the table, I hoped was a good sign.

 

It was so hot out, the tar felt warm and soft beneath us, like sand at the beach.  Francine and I lay down blankets: my crummy Budweiser one (with real sand stuck to it), and her fluffy pink one. 

 

While Freddy impatiently worked the grill, Nicky was our DJ.  Right now “Hungry Like the Wolf” was blasting. Duran Duran.  My favorite.  “Good song!” I said, trying to smooth out my stiff, sandy blanket.

 

“Put on ‘Thriller!’ ” Francine saidd.  Her favorite.  We all groaned.  We were sick of that tape.  But she always got her way, at least with Nicky.

 

Instead of buying batteries, they’d used extension cords to hook up the boom box to Freddy’s bedroom outlet.  If Dolly saw that, we were fucked, for sure.

 

Still, Michael Jackson or not, we were all in great moods.  We laughed at everything, no matter how stupid.  Took turns drinking beer at the edge of the roof, enjoying the “view.”  The city at its sleaziest: the park with its bums, and junkies.  But even they looked happy, today!  Down the block, another hydrant had busted open.  Kids and even grown-ups leapt through the gushing water.

 

“Don’t jump!” Francine told each of us in turn.

 

Like we were married, I stood behind Freddy, holding a beer for him to drink while he cooked.

 

“Aw, how sweet!” Francine would’ve loved it if we hooked up.

 

“Gimme your plates!” Freddy said finally. 

 

For a good half hour, we stuffed ourselves.  Our paper plates were piled so high, it was obscene.  Burgers, dogs, sausages.   Plus pickles and salads and shit.  The oily plate almost burned a hole in my leg.

 

“Good!” Freddy kept saying, through mouthfuls of food.  “Good!”  Frankenstein’s first word.

 

“Don’t let that burn,” Francine warned him.  Meaning the London Broil. Already it looked like an old black boot.

 

“I thought you liked it like that,” I said.

 

She glowered at me, then went back to eating.  Only she would bypass a pile of burgers and dogs to savor a green salad.  She looked so delicate, so out of place, sitting on a blanket on that roof.  Like Natalie Wood, in West Side Story.

 

“I can’t believe nobody crashed this thing,” Nicky said. 

 

“Maybe nobody’s home,” I said.

 

*     *     *

 

It hit Nicky first, how full we were.  Eyes wide, he was all bent over, like he would puke right there.  “Oh, man!” he said.

 

I was next.  Bloated and sick, I was scared I would die.  I’d drunk too much beer before eating, and that made it worse.  I wasn’t drunk anymore.  And that’s sad.

 

Freddy was still putting it away.  Like he was going to the chair, at midnight.  “You fag!” he told Francine, who leisurely speared the last hunk of tomato.

 

“Are you watching that meat?” she asked him.

 

That’s when it hit him.  Suddenly his eyes were twice their size: way bigger than Nicky’s.  Somehow he got up.  Holding his gut, he started pacing back and forth.

 

“ ’S’ your own fault,” Francine said smugly.

 

I managed to get up, too.  “I’ve . . . gotta go downstairs.”

 

The building was so quiet, it was eerie.     Not like everybody was just out, but. . .  dead. 

 

From the stairs, my place was the furthest. So when he came up behind me, I freaked.

 

“Hey,” Billy said.  Out of nowhere, he’d come.  Sloppy drunk, clutching a beer in a brown bag.  He could hardly stand.

 

“What’s up?” I tried to sound casual.

 

My door was unlocked.  As I rushed in, he shoved me, so I fell. He was right behind me.

 

It didn’t seem real.  In my own house, I was laid out, with this…thing looming over me!  Weaving back and forth, leering at me.  “What?” My teeth chattered, I was so scared. “What do you want?”

 

He shrugged. “I don’t know . . .” He leaned against the doorframe.  “A blow job?” 

 

All I’d eaten was ready to come up. “No!” I spat out. “I’d die first!” 

He looked sad.  Like he was really so drunk, he didn’t know what was up.  He held out the paper bag.  “Give you some of my quart.”

 

I just stared at him.  When he moved toward me, I yelled, “Get away from me!”

 

“Shel!”  Freddy yelled, from the hallway.  “What’s wrong?”

 

“Help!” I said, and rolled over toward the bathroom.

 

“Bill?” Now Freddy was in the doorway.  “What’s up, man?”  They slapped each other five!

 

“Nothin’,” Billy said. “Thought maybe she’d blow me.”

 

In the bathroom, I got up, shut and locked the door.  “Get . . . out!”

 

“Come on up the roof.” Freddy’s voice was muffled, as they left.  “Got beer, and . . .”

 

*     *     *

 

For a long time, I sat on the shower ledge, trying not to cry. Why was Freddy so nice to him?  He might’ve raped me!  What kind of friend was Freddy, anyway? 

 

Guys stick together, a little voice told me.  Plus, it wasn’t like Freddy was my boyfriend.  If it had been Francine, Nicky would’ve kicked Billy’s ass.  If I’d only fucked Mike Cassidy . . . .

 

The tears gushed down.  Why, I asked myself, didn’t guys want me? ‘Cos I was a slob?  One glance around my grimy bathroom made me cry harder. 

 

A drunk?  Well, too bad. After what just happened, I couldn’t wait for my next beer.

 

A . . . pig?  I’d just eaten enough for a family of four. I was lucky my shorts hadn’t split. 

 

I got up, wearily.  The saddest part was, if Billy had offered the beer up front, he might’ve had me.  I was that down on myself.

 

Nah, I realized, as I trudged back out.  He was just too creepy. . . .

 

*     *     *

 

            “Shelley?” Behind me, the voice was reedy, ghostlike.

 

            I swung around.  In the hallway, Dolly was creeping along, like she was smelling for something.  “Shel?”

 

            “Yeah.” 

 

            She kept sniffing around. “You seen Billy?”

 

            “ ’S’ up on the roof.”

           

            Then, whatever she’d been smelling, I smelled, too.  Like something was burning.

 

            This crazy smile lit up her face.  “Maybe . . .” she said, “He’ll jump!”

 

            I backed into the stairs. “Are we on fire?”

 

            “Billy!” I heard Francine yell from the roof. “That’s disgusting!” Then drunken laughter.

 

            The smell had gotten worse.  I was so confused, I didn’t know what was happening. Wasn’t sure where to go.

 

            I ran upstairs.  Behind me, Dolly was feeling her way up. “That fuck!” she said. “He’s burning the house down! That miserable, drunken . . .”

 

            Sizzling, we heard, right off.  As we reached the roof, I stopped dead, so Dolly bumped into me.

 

             Legs spread, Billy stood before the fiery grill. . . peeing! 

 

            “Good aim,” Freddy told Nicky, who was trying not to laugh.  They’d gotten twice as drunk since I went downstairs.

 

            “The grill caught fire,” Francine told me. “Say goodbye to your coffee table.”

 

            With that, the broken leg crumbled, fell off.  The whole thing collapsed, with the grill on top of it. 

 

            “Billy!” Dolly yelled.  “Where are you?”

 

            Billy was done peeing.  Without zipping his fly, he loped away from the mess. I looked away.

 

            “My London Broil!” Francine wailed.  On the roof, the charred meat blended right in with the tar.

 

            “Billy!” Dolly was still yelling.

 

            But he’d disappeared. 

 

            The music was blasting.  Freddy and Nicky were making up their own steps to the “Stray Cat Strut.” I went up to Freddy. “Thanks for nothing!” I said.

 

            “Huh?” I bet he saw two of me.

 

            “Watch out!” Francine screamed.

 

            Some things seem to happen in slow motion.  Take forever instead of the actual few seconds.

 

            One moment Billy was standing on the edge of the roof.  Looking down, like he owned the whole world.  Beer in one hand, arms spread out, almost eagle-like. For like a second, he tottered, then went over the side.

 

            I’m not sure if I screamed, like Francine.  I swore I didn’t, but remember yelling all around me.  And music.  The music never let up, seemed to get louder.

When the cops finally got there, the Clash were still rocking the Casbah. 

 

            For a long time, Dolly kept yelling, “What?  What happened?”

 

            Above all, I heard my heart pounding.

 

*     *     *

 

            “She didn’t mean it,” I said, later that night, at Francine’s. “Dolly didn’t really want him to jump.”

 

            “But did he?” Nicky asked.  We were all whispering.

 

            “I’m not sure,” I said. I really wasn’t. It felt like I had dreamt it. In my head, I kept seeing Billy go over the edge, but couldn’t believe it had really happened.

 

            “He jumped.” Francine sounded mad.

 

            It had cooled off, some.  We sat in the dark living room: me, Francine and Nicky on that orange tweed couch, Freddy on the floor, closest to me.  We’d all sobered up by now.  Between talking to the cops, and trying to make sure Dolly was okay. . . .

           

            “Poor guy,” Nicky said. “Probably depressed.” He leaned over, stared into space. “Who knew?”

 

            “Weren’t you pissed at him?” Freddy asked me. “What’d he do?”

 

            Real crabby, he was.  We all were.  Probably the first time we were all together, not drinking.  My own nerves felt raw.  It felt like we were standing on each other’s.

 

            What could I say?  Without being nasty?

 

            Nobody cared when I didn’t answer.

 

            For a while we were all silent.

 

Then Francine said, “Nicky . . . Would you make me coffee?” Tonight her voice was like a circular saw. 

 

“Make it yourself,” Nicky said.      

 

 

 

 

Eat The Worm

 

Cindy Rosmus

 

Mozart showed up late last night while Candy the writer was smashed on tequila.  The door was open, and Candy heard Mozart shut it behind him and turn the lock.  He stopped in the kitchen. When he opened the door to the old fridge, something fell out of the freezer and landed on his foot.  Candy heard him kick it across the floor.

For a while Mozart leaned in the doorway, staring at her.  He was almost as drunk as she was.  His wig was on crooked, and there were stains on his lavender waistcoat.  With one hand he held two cans of beer and with the other, he steadied himself against the bar.  Candy tried to get up but fell back on the couch.  She laughed nervously.

All the lights were out, but as Mozart came towards her, she realized that she could see every detail of the room, from the water spots on the wine glasses to the dust hanging from the radiator.  If she wasn't bombed, she could have re-read the editor’s letter.

She curled up her legs so Mozart could sit down.  Up close he looked amused, proud as a parent who was as rambunctious as his child, a parody of himself.  His eyes were brilliant, but so bloodshot they made Candy's begin to water.  His nose seemed too small for his mouth, which was smeared with lipstick from a weird angle, as if he'd been kissed.

When he smiled, Mozart had dimples.  Candy smiled back as he cracked one of the beers.  “You want a glass?" she asked.

"What for?" he said.

She shrugged.  He cracked the other beer and handed it to her.

"I'll puke," she said.

"Keep one foot on the floor,"  Mozart said, "and you won't."

As she moved her leg, Candy's robe slid open, and the bruise on her thigh was exposed.  It was the size and hue of a small eggplant and so ugly that Mozart couldn't keep his eyes off of it.  "Got hit with a barstool," Candy said before he could ask her about it.

"Over at McCabes's?"

She nodded and took a sip of beer.  "Last week sometime. Big Dutch knocked Cobra out of his seat, and the stool hit me.  Later some biker bitch said I stole her money off the bar. "

Mozart smirked.  "Try bolting your door."

She just shrugged.  Mozart took his feet off the cocktail table long enough to pick up the editor's letter.  "Another?"
he said, but she wouldn't answer.  He read it by the light of his face.  As he sipped his beer, the can shone silver as the buckles on his shoes.  He frowned.

"Fuckers,"  Candy said in a hurt voice.

"Idiots," Mozart corrected her.  He was reading it again. "How many idiots?"

She had to count on her fingers.  "This makes six."

He missed his mouth, and the beer spilled.  He wiped his face and neck with his sleeve.  Candy considered offering him a dishcloth, or at least her hair.  "It even won an award!” She cried.

Mozart folded two corners of the letter down and then the whole thing lengthwise.  "Congratulations," he said.

"Nine months they had it," Candy said bitterly.  "Nine goddamn months it took them to say they didn't want it."

Mozart smiled.  "Long enough for you to have a baby."

"Not me." Candy watched as he threw the paper airplane into the kitchen. She wouldn't be surprised if it came back by itself. "I don't want a baby."

"Not even mine?"

Candy hid her face against the couch.  As bombed as she was, she knew she was blushing.  When Mozart touched the cold beer to her buttock, she jumped up.  He winked, then finished the beer in one gulp.

"Last call," she said.

"That's what you think," Mozart said from the kitchen. Something else —maybe the ice pops—fell out of the freezer, and once again he kicked it aside.  Candy heard him crack another beer.

"After this you have to leave!" she yelled.

"Waiting up for Big Dutch?" "No way."

"At least I can speak in complete sentences."

"Get out of here!" she said.  From behind, Mozart caught her around the neck and rested his chin on top of her head. She trembled.  Tears came to her eyes.  When she wiped them away, her make-up came off on her hand, and she let out a sob.  It was the first time she'd cried since she turned thirty-five, since the unsold stories came back almost all at once.  Since Big Dutch slugged her.  She clung to Mozart's arm, and he tightened his hold on her.

"I've failed you," she said finally, when no more tears would come.

"Bullshit," Mozart said. "Now blow your nose."

"On your sleeve?"

"It's all I have."

She sighed.  "Should I give up?"

He slapped her wet cheek.  "I'm not sorry," he said.

"I won't give up, I swear!  It was a bad joke, like how do you load a truck full of dead babies?"

He wasn't laughing.  "With a pitchfork?"

"Just don't go," Candy begged.

"Relax." Mozart leaned against the bar.  He looked disgusted, haughty as hell.  Handsome, in spite of the lipstick all over his face.  He took small furious sips of beer and still wouldn't look at her.

Candy ran her fingers through her hair, holding it up around her face.  She wondered if the black streaks had dried on her cheeks.  The robe slipped off one shoulder but she left it that way.  "Herr Mozart?" she whispered.

He grunted.

"I promise I'll grow up." She let go of her hair.

"Where’s the book?"

She rubbed her shoulder.  "Kids are okay, but I prefer grown-ups."

"All I want is your book."

Now Candy looked disgusted.  "Over on the desk," she said.  Mozart covered his face so she wouldn't see him smile. But then he laughed out loud.

"So I'm a slob," Candy muttered.

Beer still in hand, Mozart shoved everything but the typewriter off the desk.  When he bent over to sort out the manuscript, Candy realized he wasn't wearing any underwear. She liked the shape of his lavender silk cheeks.  He suddenly turned and winked again.

Candy crushed the empty can and set it on the cocktail table.

Mozart perched on the edge of the desk and began reading the manuscript.  Now and then he scratched his thigh and Candy's eyes were forced back to his erection.  Then she saw his face.

He was smiling.  As he turned each page, his smile grew wider.  He licked his lips, then pressed them together.  He took off his wig and ran his hand through his hair.  His hair was as wild as hers, but blond -- the color of Gulden's mustard. He chewed his thumbnail.  Very slowly he shook his head.

Candy's heart was pounding.  For a minute she thought she was going to cry again.

Finally he looked at her.  When he spoke, his voice sounded strange.  "My child," he said, and the words unnerved her like a jab in the back.  Outside she heard motorcycles, but inside there was music.  His music.  "My child," he said now. He lay the manuscript on top of the typewriter and began to inch toward her.

She grabbed the empty bottle but she knew it would never stop him.  She wouldn't want it to.  "They say you get drunker when you eat the worm," she said, backing into the couch.

"Drunkest," Mozart said. "But you beat me to it."  He took her chin in his hand.  When she let go of the bottle, he smiled.  She blinked furiously against the light from his face, which was very close to hers.

He suddenly licked her mouth and nose. "No!" she screamed.  "That's what they did when I was little.  My Dad used to do that to my Mom."

Mozart nodded.  "I know," he said, "I was there." Candy stared.  It was her lipstick on his face, the same shade that reddened the mouths of the cans.  She looked into the darkest and dreamiest of eyes.  Last Call Eyes. A lot to do before she died, she realized now.  She was breathing hard.

He tickled her ribs so she would laugh, and after awhile, she did.  He laughed with her.  She put a finger in each of his dimples.

He yanked off her robe.

Afterward, she lay in his lap, her face against his thigh. The music grew softer till it was just in his hands.  He massaged her earlobe and neck, the back of her head.  She didn't want to fall asleep.

It was late when she woke up on the floor.  The sun was bleach-white and shining right in her eyes.  She sat up and screamed from the pain in her head.

She was out of aspirin.  And her rooms were a mess. 

 

Collected in Angel of Manslaughter, Fossil Publications, © 2006. Originally appeared in The Unmentionable, # 13 © 1991.

 

 

 

ilpaglio.jpg
Art by Paula Friedlander

Il Pagliaccio Morto

 

Cindy Rosmus

 

Joey.

 

He was this con artist, right? Not a pro, or anything, but a con job just the same. Otherwise, it would’ve worked out between them. Otherwise, he wouldn’t’ve screwed her over.

 

Baci. Poor little Baci, that sweet crazy kid from downtown. The one who'd just sold her book, and shocked the shit out of everybody. The one who could've—and should've— had the best.

 

With her looks, anyway. That hot body, wild black hair and eyes, and those lips. Especially those. Big and red, like some living, forbidden fruit. The juiciest, hungriest lips. Insatiable, but with only one thing on her diet by then.

 

She should've seen a shrink. Big time.

 

She'd always had it rough, Baci. Laughed at in school because she was smart, and it was cool to be dumb, and cruel. When she was twelve, somebody pushed her drunk Pop out of a window. Baci heard her uncle Guido did that. Then her old lady married the uncle's pal—that slimeball with the skinny mustache who looked like Snidely Whiplash from the Bullwinkle cartoon.

 

The slimeball had it in for Baci. In more ways than one…

 

She was used to being smacked around, but this stuff was new to her. She screamed and fought back, and hated it at first. Then she realized there was no way out. Not yet. She got used to being sore.

 

Good thing she could write. At least she had that. Snidely said if she ever told anybody what he did to her, he'd kill her old lady. Baci made sure those little notebooks were never out of her sight.

 

When she finally did get away, she moved in with that bum, uptown. Bruno. Sly, muscular guy who looked like he could kick the shit out of anybody. He owned that drug bar by the park. When Baci turned twenty-one, he taught her to tend bar but said he'd kill her if he caught her sniffing any of the goods. He hated when she smoked. In front of customers, he snatched the Marlboro out of her mouth and broke it in half, grinning.

 

By the time she got away from the Drug King, she had her first story published. Brutal story about Stepfather Snidely and her that could only be printed in a skinmag. She was ready, now. Nobody would ever fuck with Baci again. The battered little beauty was on her way up.

 

She got a job tending bar at this place, Mick's. Way uptown, a place where chicks jumped each other if one got caught eyeing the other's old man. Working six nights a week at Mick's was the only way Baci could afford to live by herself.

 

A dump, sure, but the rooms were hers. A place for her graffiti-covered kid's desk and second-hand typewriter. That's where she wrote the book. Mornings she got up early and bolted down sweet, black coffee like she was doing shots of 'Buca. She stared out the windows at the shabby, dead-end street by the bay.

 

She wrote straight from the heart.

 

She searched for love all the time. Guys who swore they loved her went home with her nights. Lots of guys, all bums. They made her cry. Guys with ripped T-shirts who asked her to lick coke off their chests and cocks, but Baci did it without the coke. She never did drugs, though she could hold her booze better than her old man had. She drank, and she cried.

 

Baci guessed what she wanted was a nice, normal guy. Not too normal, but one who was for real. Somebody who'd stick around, but not beat her or yank Marlboros out of her mouth 'cos he didn't like her to smoke. Somebody who'd love her. Somebody creative. Even somebody who finger-painted her body would do. "Mister-Fuckin'-Right"

 

And she thought that was Joey.

 

He showed up at Mick's when Baci needed him most. Stepfather Snidely had stopped in for a beer when Mick wasn't around. He got bombed the way her real Pop had, then scrambled up onto the bar so he could jump on her. Joey had pulled Snidely back so he'd landed on his back like a giant roach. Joey had beaten the shit out of him while people cheered.

 

"Are you okay?" Joey'd said after he and some biker had carried Snidely outside. "Can I drive you home?" He looked so concerned, seemed so different from all the others. When he smiled, and Baci saw he had a dimple—one dimple—she knew she'd lost it. For good.

 

Sure, he was nice. And courteous. It was all part of his act. His "audition." He knew just what to say and do and how to say and do it, 'cos he was studying to be an actor. But that went right over Baci's bobbing head.

 

Sicilian and Polish, Joey was, like a blond Frankie Avalon with a yellow mustache and one small tattoo. Beach Blanket Bastard. Ride the wild Polack. Baci couldn't get enough of him. From one side he got the worst kind of guts, and from the other, that dimple, and those eyes. Joey's eyes were as bad as Baci's lips: the most sincere, the cruelest, and the bluest you'd ever seen. Eyes that said, "I'm not gonna fuck you up like all the others, darling. Trust me, okay?"

 

Baci did. She trusted him to move into her place and take over her life. Talk shit to her, in that "actor's" voice. Like he really wasn't from uptown, by the bay. He recited poetry and did Shakespearean monologues that gave Baci a lump in her throat. She couldn't believe she'd found a guy like Joey.

 

By trade he was a carpenter. The first week he lived with Baci, he hung up the mini-blinds she'd bought but forgotten. He built cabinets for her kitchen. When he volunteered to re-do her bathroom, he seemed shocked when she asked how much it would cost her. "Nothing," he said, showing that dimple. "Not a damn thing, darling."

 

He seemed too good to be true. He was the only guy she could really talk to, who gave a shit about what she'd been through. When she told him how her Stepfather Snidely had told her sick jokes while he fucked her, Joey was pissed. He suddenly turned and smacked the headboard, almost breaking it. "You should've killed him!" he said.

 

Mornings he got up with Baci and read what she'd written the day before, till it was time for him to leave for work. Sometimes he told her to change something, but usually he didn't. "I tol’ja to fix that, bitch," he'd say in one of his voices, never his own. Baci would start giggling, and all of a sudden, they'd wind up fucking.

 

They were wild in bed, you know? Baci was used to doing it rough, but Joey didn't smack her around. He pulled her nipples, but he never bit them. When she gave him head, he liked her to use her teeth. "Raking," he called it. Baci got into it, loved closing those ruby lips over the head and working her way down, then bringing her teeth around him so that Joey gasped. When she did, he moaned like the hammerhead from uptown that he really was.

 

All summer they were together. Then something hap­pened.

 

Baci sold the book.

 

Her agent had hit on just the right guy, somebody who loved the kind of squalid stuff Baci wrote. Baci had never been so happy. Now she had it all: a book coming out, a great guy who knew how to please her, and who really meant it when he said he loved her. She couldn't wait for Joey to get him to celebrate. She rushed over to Mick's.

 

Three beers and two shots of 'Buca went to her head. Baci looked Mick square in the face and quit her job.

 

Mick had always liked her. "Good luck," he said. "Give us a kiss, babe." When he stuck his tongue in her mouth, she was shocked. Before she could stop herself, Baci slapped his face.

 

It felt good. She stood there, watching Mick's eyes get bigger, wondering why she felt this way. Mick had always been swell to her.

 

"Get out!" he yelled, and all the heads that hadn't turned with the slap, turned now.

 

"You little bitch! All the shit I stood from you!" Mick yelled, as she ran out the door.

 

Till Joey got home, Baci sat in the window by her desk, drinking beer and smoking Marlboros. Staring outside at a stray cat. It was still almost a kitten, dark gray like the sky before a big storm. The cat made her feel strange, like maybe they should switch places. Like maybe it was really the cat who'd just sold the book, not Baci. Like maybe Baci should be the one roaming the streets, looking for scraps.

 

Joey was late. Baci kept checking the clock he'd hung in her kitchen. She cracked another beer.

 

She still couldn't believe what she'd done. How she'd smacked Mick just 'cos he'd made a pass at her. It wasn't her fault. She'd been drunk. But it'd felt great. God, she'd felt great when she'd smacked him, drunk or not.

 

It was dark when Joey finally got home. He walked in with his denim jacket slung over his shoulder, like a punk looking for trouble. He had on this cut-off T-shirt that Baci loved, the turquoise one that looked green next to his blue eyes. His face was red. He wasn't smiling. Before he even said a word, Baci knew he'd stopped at Mick's.

 

"What're you, fucking crazy?" he snarled.

 

"So I quit!" Baci said, reaching for his jacket. "I sold the book, Joe. Didn't I tell you? Now we..."

 

Joey snatched the jacket out of her hand and flung it into a chair. "Stupid bitch!" he said. "Think I'm gonna keep payin' all your goddamn bills? Do ya?"

 

Baci paused. "I never asked you to," she said, feeling like she was in a play. Maybe she was. Maybe Joey was just acting out a scene, like he used to. She realized she was still holding the beer, and she took a sip.

 

He knocked it right out of her mouth, and she almost fell back against the fridge. "Well, I'm through," he said.

 

Baci just looked at him. She tasted blood.

 

"I'm sicka this shit. I'm sicka you."

 

"You're drunk," Baci said hopefully.

 

"I could be drunker," he said, sneering. His dimple looked out of place now, as if all along it'd belonged to somebody else.

 

"You want a beer?" she said. "We should be celebrating. I sold the book, I said."

 

He smacked her into the fridge.

 

"Sicka you!" he said. "Sicka that fuckin' book. I got my own damn life, whether you like it or not."

 

Baci was crying. "I never stopped you!" She tasted tears along with her blood. "You got whatever you wanted."

 

"Bullshit," he said with that sneer. "It's your fuckin' book, not mine."

 

"We can work together," Baci said, cringing as he came toward her again…

 

With his thumb and middle finger, he mashed her sore face. "Who needs you?" he said. "I'm on my own, now, darling."

 

"Huh?"

 

"I got a chance," he said. "Just a chance. But I'm gonna give it all I got."

 

When he reached into his jacket pocket, Baci was sure he'd stopped off and bought a gun. She tried to remember one of the prayers the nuns had taught her. All she could remember was "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned."

 

But she didn't deserve to die like this. She'd never done anything that bad. It wasn't fair. All she'd done was love him the way she'd wanted to be loved. It wasn't fair. She loved him to death.

 

Joey turned around wearing a fake nose that was only a little redder than his face. "Just call me Chaos,’" he said without smiling. ‘Chaos the Clown.’"

 

He yanked open his jeans. Slowly he came toward her again, his cock in his hand.

 

Just like the old days, she froze.

 

Like all those times when she was a kid, she remembered not to scream.

 

 

When he was gone, she sat in the window for a long time, with an icepack against her cheek. Even though it was dark out, she watched for the cat. It had to be somewhere. She'd find it yet, maybe bring it upstairs. She had to protect it from Snidely. From the Brunos and Micks with their moving dicks. From Joey, actually. Joey who wasn't Joey anymore.

 

Who was she kidding? It was the cat who would show her what to do about Joey.

 

Chaos.

 

She went over to the fridge.

 

Mixed with her blood, the beer was delicious.

 

Not this one. Not Joey. Not after he made Stepfather see stars. He couldn't've hurt her. Not after he'd hand-carved those cabinets up there. Carved right through to that heart. Carved that heart right out of the body.

 

That heart.

 

Those lips. That heart.

 

Ravenous.

 

Carved right out.

 

The ad in the paper said "Conky the Clown," but Baci saw through it. Nobody would hire a clown named "Chaos." First show was at the library, in the kids' department, Saturday afternoon at one.

 

Funny, since Joey never liked kids. "Snot-noses," he'd called them. He'd been careful not to get Baci pregnant, but she'd stopped being grateful about that, along with the blinds he'd hung and the cabinets he'd built.

 

She was glad he'd forgotten his utility knife.

 

From the door to the Kiddies' Room, she watched five of the "Snot-noses" crawl all over Chaos the Clown. She could almost feel him cringe.

 

His face was painted white, but the dimple stuck out from the wide red mouth. His wig matched his eyes. From across the room, they were still the bluest she'd ever seen.

 

He saw her while he was tying a balloon into some kind of animal. It looked like a red stray cat. Chaos looked like he wished it was real, 'cos then it could feel real pain.

 

Like Baci.

 

He smiled at her. She smiled back, then ducked behind the door. She'd wait for him out by his car.

 

Outside the library, she climbed up onto the hood of his 'Vette and smoked, wishing it was dark so she could watch rings of smoke as she blew them.

 

Funny, wasn't it, that Chaos the Clown should drive a Vette instead of a VW, or jump out of a tiny matchbox model car? Since he'd left her the other night, everything struck Baci as hilarious.

 

Like those jokes her Stepfather used to tell her while he was fucking her. So she'd remember it being fun. Jokes about niggers and spics and Polacks. One joke, even, about Helen Keller, who'd been blind, deaf, and dumb. If only, Baci had thought then, if only she could've been struck the same way.

 

Maybe then she could've been happy.

 

When Chaos finally came out of the library, the same old feeling came over Baci. He was still wearing clown make-up and blue wig, but he'd changed into a ripped T-shirt and his tightest jeans. Baci looked away, almost shyly. He had a royal hard-on.

 

"Get offa my car, bitch," he said, but his tone was affectionate.

 

Baci obeyed without a word, without even smiling. She threw her cigarette into the street. Above them, the wind blew through the trees, and suddenly it was cool. Through one of the rips in his shirt, she could see his belly button. She reached out and covered it with the loose material.

 

"Get in," he said.

 

They drove down to Monk Road, on the other side of town, where guys and chicks went to fuck. Everywhere you looked, there were hills of dirt, and an occasional car parked in the distance. But down here, people minded their own damn business.

 

The sun was still bright. When Chaos unzipped his jeans, his cock popped up. It was almost as red as his fake nose. It looked like it was on fire.

 

"Hurry up," Chaos said. "I got another show to do."

 

Baci ran her hand up along his cock, then rubbed and squeezed it till he shut his clown's eyes and sighed. She lowered her head.

 

He moaned as she ran her teeth along it, up and down, pausing at the head, which had always been her favorite part. She'd often wished she could've sucked it right off. Instead, very lightly, she ran her tongue over it.

 

He seized her by the hair so she'd suck it faster, but this time she surprised him.

 

She bit him as hard as she could.

 

He screamed and let go of her hair. She backed up to the passenger door and pulled out the utility knife. While the clown clutched his bleeding cock, Baci snapped open the blade.

 

And sliced through his chest.

 

Dropped the knife in his lap. He screamed louder as blood spurted out, splashing both his hands and his cock.

He was still screaming as she pushed open the door and crawled out into the dirt.

 

But she was sick of crawling around in dirt.

 

Not even looking to see if a car was parked alongside them, not even caring if anybody saw her, speckled with blood, or hearing the agonized screams of the dying clown...

 

Little Baci stood up straight.

 

Il Pagliaccio Morto.”Collected in Angel of Manslaughter by Cindy Rosmus.  Copyright 2006 © Fossil Publications. First appeared in Hardboiled, # 17, February 1994.

 

 

mikeysdadgin.jpg
Art by Gin E L Fenton

Mikey’s Dad

 

Cindy Rosmus

 

For the last hour, Mikey's dad had his eye on Lisa. Mikey's dad looked like Nick Nolte, with the strangest chin — shaven, but looking unshaven and always moving, like he had to bite his tongue or he'd yell, "Don't marry him, Lisa! It's me you want, stupid bitch!"

He was too late. Father C. said the word, and then Lisa and Mikey kissed. Mikey was a rotten kisser, but he was sweet in bed. He made her feel good, talked about God and how pretty the snow was, took her to horror movie matinees. When Mikey kissed her in the church, Lisa couldn't find his tongue. That had never happened with Mikey's dad.

It was cold in the Legion hall. Too Christmasy, with a shaky tree, bridesmaids in blood-red velour, the maid-of-honor in green, holly in their stiff blonde hair. Dinner would be turkey and the Veteran's Special: pigs-in-blankets. How silly to get married this day. Everyone's broke the week after Christmas. Santa's so bombed, he'd give anyone away.

Their song was "Happy," by the Stones, but they danced to "You Made Me Love You," to please Lisa's mom, the Judy Garland freak. Lisa couldn't wait for the champagne toast. She'd left her beer in the little room. The manager had practically grabbed it out of Lisa's hand when it was time to line up. ("Where's your wife, Mr. Rozewski?" the bitch had asked Mikey. Lisa was hiding in the corner. She'd held up her beer in response.) As she danced with Mikey, she watched Mikey's dad watch her. When he licked his lips, she shut her eyes.

Dancing with her own dad was like dancing with that Christmas tree. Lisa's dad was so bombed, he'd almost fallen down the icy steps of St. Jude's. He kept stepping on Lisa's gown. She remembered sitting on his lap in the corner bar, drinking ginger ale out of a whiskey glass. The glasses seemed to get smaller as Lisa got bigger. Now she drank a shot of Jack Daniels with every beer. It was Mikey's dad who'd introduced her to Jack.

While Mikey danced with his sobbing mom, Lisa sneaked a mini egg roll off a stranger's plate. He was probably a Rozewski, so she winked back at him. When she was almost through with the guy's beer, she felt someone tug on her veil. She refused to turn around, even when he did it again. "God Bless the Child" was over then. Lisa was the first to clap for Mikey and his mom. "Next one's ours," Mikey's dad whispered hoarsely into Lisa's ear.

But she got away. The toast took too long, since Mikey's cousin Zenon translated it into Polish after dragging it out in English. Lisa didn't like the soup: it was beef vegetable, with pearls of fat and canned carrot squares in it. Every time she picked up her spoon, someone started to bang his against his glass. Then they all did it.

Everyone but Mikey's dad. What was wrong with his wife? Couldn't she see through all those tears? Were they only for her late-blooming son, who still played drinking games with the Puerto Rican guys at work? Lisa looked into Mikey's eyes. They were brown and set so closely that sometimes it seemed she was all he saw, or wanted to see. She kissed him once, without the clanging of spoons on glasses. He tasted like beefy fat and warm beer.

The Veteran's band played a polka, and the old folks screamed. Lisa refused to get up. She picked at the salad while Mikey danced with the flower girl, his genius niece. Lisa looked over at Mikey's dad, but he wasn't there. Her heart jumped when she felt another tug on her veil.

"Get away from me," she muttered.

"If you want," said Mikey's dad. He sat down in Mikey's seat.

Finally she looked at him "Go get me a beer."

He signaled the waitress instead. "Two Budweisers, please," he said in the tone of voice he used to impress young girls. The waitress was old enough to be his mother; He grabbed Lisa's hand.

"What're you, crazy?" she said.

"Maybe," he said, smiling. He looked strange in his tux. He'd trimmed his mustache and gotten a haircut for the occasion, but his hair was still too long. He and Mikey could pass for brothers, except his eyes were different: his said they were sick of seeing the same shit day after day, night after night. He put Lisa's hand on his thigh.

Lisa got up. "I'm going to puke."

Mikey's dad wouldn't let her go. "It'll pass," he said.

The polka ended, and the band announced they were taking a break. Mikey headed back to the bridal table. "The next song's ours," Mikey's dad told Lisa, "no matter what you say." He clapped his son on the back on his way to the men's room.

"Aren't you eating?" Mikey asked Lisa when the main course was served.

"I'm sick of turkey."

"So eat stuffed cabbage."

Mikey's dad kept his word. When the band came back, they started playing, "You Belong To Me." Mikey's dad held out his hand.

Lisa looked at it in horror. "No," she said.

"Go 'head, babe," Mikey said through a mouthful of food. "I'm still eating."

Lisa felt light-headed. She couldn't remember how many beers she'd had, how much champagne. She was due for a shot of Jack. She headed for the bar.

Mikey's dad seized her by the arm and led her onto the dance floor. "Later," he said. He pulled her close.

She gasped. Just once he rubbed up against her. She struggled, but there was no way out "Enjoy it," he said.

A lot of people were dancing. Lisa saw her woozy parents, and Mikey's mom with Cousin Zen. Lisa's maid of honor was so coked up, she was trying to fast-dance to the song. Once Lisa had slept with the usher her best friend was with. Tom was a great kisser, but in bed, Lisa had lost out. No one could compare with Mikey's dad.

"I'm freezing," she said.

“They just turned up the heat,” Mikey’s dad said.

“You’re sick,” she said. Again she tried to break away, but he was too strong. She saw Mikey wave to them, a glass of beer in his other hand.

“He works all day Saturday, so he’ll never know,” Mikey’s dad said.

“Know what?”

He didn’t answer. Lisa heard him snicker into her veil. They were dancing right by the bar. The bartender was grinning down at the brainy flower girl. He dropped an extra cherry into her Shirley Temple.

“He’ll kill you,” Lisa said.

“He’ll kill you,” Mikey’s dad said, “if he has too much to drink. And he’s pushed far enough. Then he’ll explode.”

Lisa could feel the little she’d eaten start to come back up. “I love him,” she said weakly.

The song was ending. “Then don’t tell him.”

Lisa just looked at him. The other dancers clapped and stood waiting to hear what the band would play next.

She remembered the first time they did it, in the back of his van, eight o’clock on a Saturday morning. Before she ever knew he had a son her age. He had two big tattoos and a long scar around his chest, from when he was stabbed—almost sliced clean in half—in Vietnam. He taught her what sex was about before she even learned to drive a car. It hurt so much that she cried. Mikey’s dad liked that the best. He said the more it hurt, the better it was. He said tears made him come.

Lisa was crying now, softly, on his shoulder. He smelled musky and rough, like a warrior. A chief. She let out a sob.

“Save it,” Mikey’s dad said.

 

 

 

“Mikey’s Dad.”  Collected in Angel of Manslaughter by Cindy Rosmus.  Copyright 2006 © Fossil Publications. Collected in Sleeping with Dionysus: Women, Ecstasy and Addiction, edited by Kay Marie Porterfield, The Crossing Press, 1994.  First appeared in The North American Review, Vol. 276, No. 1, March 1991.

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Art by Gin E L Fenton

 

Shangri-La

 

Cindy Rosmus

 

 

          His place was a sty.  Filthy, cluttered.  Creepy, like the Munsters had snuck in while decent people were out working.  Usually it was dark.  So dark you felt blind.  That mattress on the floor.  Getting up, if you didn’t kick Boomer, the dog, each step crunched a homemade porn tape, or sent a beer can flying.  Sex and booze: Lars’ priorities.  But in which order?  Valerie smirked.

 

          Outside the house she stood, in the snow.  But what snow!  A fucking blizzard, with flakes madly battering everything in sight.  They stung her cheeks.  You love pain! Lars had said smugly, in his perverse Dr. Higgins way.  You thrive on abuse.  A rocket scientist turned bad, Lars was, kinda, like the alien enemy had claimed his body, cock first.  That Val still loved him defied all logic. 

 

A month ago, he’d dumped her, right in that doorway, in a similar snowstorm.  Like in a silent movie, Lars pointed his finger, roaring, “Get out!  Get out, you crazy…psycho…lunatic bitch!”  Childishly jumping up and down, so Boomer bellowed.  Poor fuck, Valerie had thought, in the midst of her torment.  At least she had a fighting chance.  That ancient, half-crippled beagle was trapped.  She was wondering if Lars was too bombed to feed him, when a full can of beer had whizzed past her head.  “Get out!” Lars had shrieked, as the beer sunk in the deep snow.

 

          “Okay,” Val told the shrink, a nameless bitch with glasses too much like somebody else’s.  “I got low self-esteem, lesbo tendencies, and only like bad boys.  Oh, I had a fucked-up childhood, too.”  Same as she’d told all other shrinks, but this one she just didn’t trust.  Way back when, she’d slouched deliciously on mushy couches, poured out her heart, and felt better.  Still, she knew deep down, she was the same needy little fucker she’d been since she was five.  “Some things,” she told this spectacled shrink, “never change.”

 

          His real name was Louis, but he called himself Lars.  Val never asked him why.  Things like that set him off.  The strangest things did.  “You don’t remember?” Lars would say, with a flick of his cigarette.  Virginia Slims, he smoked, like a sophisticated dame.  “Then again, you were trashed.”  That evil gleam was in his eye.  Sure, she drank, but with Lars, you had to.  Anything to forget the demeaning way he made you feel.  Ate your pussy with gusto, clutching your hands so tightly, they ached.  Licked your asshole, too, God, he was dirty!  The sicker it was, the more he dug it.  The sad part was, he convinced you it was love.  Drunk or sober, he gazed up with brown, slanted eyes brimming with real tears.  Schatze,” he whispered, “I love you!”  half in German.  Raved about Berlin, but hailed from Jersey City.  Ultra-romantic, Lars was Gomez Addams, Rasputin, and a fallen angel, all rolled into one.  “But,” he soon added, all smug, lighting up again, “Not just you.”  That was the saddest part.  He had lots of soulmates.  And not just female…

 

          “Mmmmmm,” came choked moans from the shrink’s VCR.  His, as Mistress Pinky eased their favorite dildo up his ass.  What he loved most, was sucking cock.  Extreme close-up of Lars’ face: half-shut, long-lashed eyes, cheeks bulging with the massive organ stuffed in his mouth.  “Mmmmmmm!”  Skin shiny with cum from the two he’d just sucked through the Glory Hole.  As he lurches and gulps this fresh load, a plump, red-nailed hand smoothes his drenched hair back.  Ah, Mistress Pinky…

 

          “First of all,” Val said, in total disgust, “If I was gonna eat pussy, it wouldn’t be hers.”  Smiling, Lars wasn’t put off a bit.  “Not if, my little Schatze.  When.  And trust me.  It will be hers.”  He usually got his way.  But not this time, Val thought smugly. 

 

Mistress Pinky…just her name suggested the dirtiest secrets.  A sheer pink nightie on a sour-faced sow.  With glasses, yet.  Lars’ production company, “Shangri-La,” specialized in fetish videos: chain-smoking sluts, golden showers, but mostly BBWs.  Of his whole stable, Mistress Pinky was the BIGGEST, most BEAUTIFUL WOMAN of all.  A sideshow kewpie doll, with curves galore.  Super-long, silky hair, and red lips stung by a swarm of bees.  The same hold Lars had on Val, his Mistress had on Lars.  And “Shangri-La’s” Superstar always wore wire-framed specs!  “S’a big turn-on!” Lars snarled, when Val wondered why.  “For who?” she demanded.  Lars just smirked.

 

          Self-mutilation.  Out of frustration, Val had severe joint pain from grinding her teeth.  Palms scarred, from carving herself.  All to keep her from clawing that smirk off Lars’ face.  “’Cos believe me,” she told the bug-eyed shrink.  “It wouldn’t stop there.” 

 

But Lars wasn’t all bad, Val told herself.  How else could she love him so much?  When she was real sick, who held her head, so she could puke?  Who mopped her face?  And take Boomer…he loved that pissy mutt to death!  Liked wrapping the beagle in soiled sheets like a mummy, so Boomer yelped, and struggled to get out.  It was their favorite game.  But Val refused to join in.    

 

The last time she watched them in bed, Val lost it.  Sobbing hysterically, she crouched on the floor, as old Boomer stumbled over, nudged her face.  His was damp,  smelly, with the saddest eyes Val had ever seen.  Once brown, now blue with cataracts.  Tightly, Val squeezed him to her, as Lars plowed Mistress Pinky.  Boomer bellowed, struggled to escape. 

 

Schatze,” Lars called the groaning cow, whose spectacled eyes were glued to Val.  Huffing and puffing, heaving, Pinky was close to her ninth orgasm.  “I…” she gasped, pointing to Val, “I…will…have her!”  Still deep inside her, Lars turned to face Val.  Hair plastered all over his sticky face, his eyes were filled with love.  “Come!” he gasped.  “Join us.  Please?  His tone was pleading. “Schatze?”  But Val was frozen.  An instant later, the eyes blazed with hate.  “Then get out!”

 

          Now, a month later, out in the snow, Val was ready.  But not for that.  She, who’d never been in a fight, was ready for the Big One.  Shaking with fury, it was all laid out, beautifully, in her mind.  If Pinky was inside, she’d slide her fucking ass!  Beat her so bad, inside and out, so everywhere you looked, there’d be fat.  Clumps of bloody yellow fat, all over the snow.  Cunt, Val thought.  Up the block somewhere would be her glasses: smashed, twisted.  For the first time in a long time, Val smiled.  And meant it.

 

          Homicidal tendencies, the shrink would be thinking.  “But why you?”   Madame Prozac demanded.  “You’re built…nice.  Pretty, caring.  Not in the same league with that crew. You’re not his type!” 

 

Val had no clue.  All she knew was, she wanted him back.  And back she would go, no matter what. 

 

Oh, well!” she said casually, getting up.  “It’s over, isn’t it?  Life goes on.”  After all Val had just told her, no shrink would buy that.  But, Val thought, smirking, her hour was up.   No time to tell her about…“The Tape.”

 

          She was here for the tape.  That’s what she’d say, when Lars opened the door.  The only one she’d made, with him, for him, which really pissed him off.  “Don’t do it for me!” he’d said grandly.  “Do it for yourself.”  Like Glinda from Oz might’ve told her.  All it was, was her sucking his cock, while trying not to choke on a cigarette.  “Nothing big,” he muttered.  “It’ll never sell.  A waste of time.  Now if she were coaxing you…” She, she, she!  Val had had it with she, the way Lars’ eyes lit up when he mentioned she.  She’d rather watch him suck cock, some thick, drippy, anonymous…

 

          Val was nuts, and she knew it.  Why else would she be here?  When the barking and shouting began inside, why didn’t she leave?  Stumble home through knee-deep snow?  Or call 911, like a sane citizen?  Instead, she struggled up the stairs and burst inside.

 

          “You fuck!” Lars screamed at Boomer, who whined, pathetically.  “Look at this mess!” The place was too bright.  Candles, Val realized.  Hundreds of them, in the bedroom, all flickering crazily, like in Carrie.  Tea lights, wax kitty cats, and those tall, creepy black ones she never wanted to know about.  Wasn’t his life warped enough?  Beside Boomer was a puddle.  Poor fuck, Val thought again.  Lars was so bombed, he still hadn’t seen her. “Wanna get gassed?” he said cruelly.  “Wanna die in some oven, old man?”  As if he understood exactly, Boomer let out the loudest bellow ever.  It was more like a scream, and Val couldn’t take it.  “Shut up!” she told Lars.

 

          Who didn’t flinch.  It was like she lived there, or had never left.  Downing his beer, he crushed the can.  “Fuckin’ mutt,” he muttered, drunkenly, “S’been pissin’ all over!”  He kicked a loose videotape aside. 

 

Suddenly he turned and smiled, horribly, at Val.  “So look who’s here.  Uninvited.  I should call the cops.”  Cant, Val thought.  Phone’s disconnected. Lights off, too.  Lars sighed.  “Well, have a beer first.  Get me one, too.”  Without a word, Val obeyed.  Just like Old Times.

 

At least there was heat, coming from the kitchen.  The oven, he liked to turn on, with the door open.  A smell of gas, but faint.  Dangerous, sure, but Lars dug flirting with death.  They all did, anyone who fucked Lars.  Condoms repulsed him.  I want…” he always said, driving his cock deeper inside you, “To feel you, raw.  I want you to milk me.  Dry.”  And, like a fool, Val always gave in.  God knows what was festering inside her, inside all of them: Mistress Pinky, those Glory Holers…  The same cock that exploded in Val was connected to the Anus From Hell.  They were one tottery step from a mass grave.

 

“Where’s that beer?” Lars yelled, from that brightly-lit room.  But Val saw something that unnerved her.  On the stove, the rear left burner was on, with no flame going.  That’s why she smelled gas.  Idly, she tried another.  No flame, either.  Then the last two.  “Hel-lo!”  Now Lars made gagging sounds, like he was dying of thirst.  Smiling, Val switched off all the burners.  Close call.  If that oven flame ever… Still smiling, she grabbed two warm beers out of the fridge. 

 

She almost tripped over Boomer.  He was always in the way.  During wild sex, he stumbled onto the mattress next to them.  During filming, he howled.  “Gonna put’cha to sleep,” Lars mumbled, affectionately now, rubbing the dog’s ears.  Boomer laughed, silently, stretched out on the mattress next to him.   Val stepped carefully over the piles of tapes.  “So…” Lars accepted the beer.  “Why are you out on a night like this?  Or, to put it bluntly…” Beer spilled on his shaky hand. “Why the fuck are you here?” 

 

          The tape.  Ask him about the tape.  But her tongue felt frozen.  He looked like shit: unshaven, probably unwashed.  Plaid flannel shirt tucked halfway into pants he might’ve swiped from a mental ward.  But this was Lars.  Not the Porn-Meister, but the man who’d loved her.  These glazed eyes had stared deep into hers until both of them desperately had to pee.  But even that he made a dirty game out of, way back when.  Right now the candlelight, all these crazy shadows, were unbearably creepy.  But, at the same time…so romantic.  Was this, was any of this ever real?

 

          Eyes still on her, he drained the can.  As he put it down between two candles, one of them teetered.  She grabbed it, gasping, as the hot wax scalded her. 

 

She jumped up.  He was oblivious, eyes half shut, slouching. “Well?” he said, drinking her beer now.  “ Are we dying to come back?  For another chance?” 

 

“Ice!” she said.  “I burned my hand.” 

 

Smirking, he gestured to the door.  “Plenty outside.”  He stretched out.  “Y’ here to say you love me?” 

 

          But I do, Val thought.  I always have.  I told you!  Her heart raced. “Where’s my tape?” came out all shaky. “The smoking blow job?”  

 

Sold,” he said smugly. 

 

What?”  Val screamed.  “You said it’d never…”

 

 Lars shrugged.  “I lied.”

 

Suddenly Val felt dizzy.  Sick, like her heart could puke.  She saw the Triple X Marquee: SCHATZE DOES DEUTSCHLAND.  No, Direct-to-Video.   Some pot-bellied sicko slapping his salami, splashing his wide screen TV, before Wifey comes home.  Lars and Pinky banking it all.  Around her, flames swirled through Val’s tears. “I don’t believe you!”

 

He’d dozed off.  “Look around,” he said, real cranky.  He rolled over and faced the wall.  “Maybe it’s here, maybe it’s not,” came out muffled.

 

The room was infested with porn tapes, mostly unmarked.  It would take hours, days, to find the right one, if it was here.  Lars half-turned toward her.  “Maybe,” he said, seductively, “She’s got the only copy!” 

 

She.  That’s when Val realized what she was going to do.  Why she was here.  A damn shame, she thought, smiling, that she’s not here too. 

 

In a few minutes, Lars was snoring, softly.  Val stole into the kitchen.  Boomer watched, curiously, but didn’t bark, as she reached the stove.  Good thing he knows me, she thought, switching on the first burner.  That soft, rushing sound.  Still no flame.  But there were plenty inside.  Smiling, Val switched on the other three.

 

Tongue out, Boomer smiled back, innocently.  Good thing he loves me, Val thought, stooping to pet him on the way out.  They rubbed faces.  She kissed the top of his aged head.

 

The snow had gotten deeper.  Way off you heard foghorns, alarms.  But why?  Nobody was out on a night like this.  You were home with someone you loved.

 

Val was halfway down the steps, when she turned and went back in.

 

Inside, the stench of gas was overpowering.  Lars’ drunken snores alternated with coughs.  For a moment, Val stood in his doorway, coughing herself. The candles flickered wildly, shadows trying to pull her back in…

 

Boomer was a smart pooch.  Already stumbling toward the door.  Val bent and scooped him up.  He bellowed, but it was too late.  Love you, too, she thought.

 

Halfway up the block, the blast came.  Windows shattered, flames blew.  The snow was no longer white.  Life goes on, Val knew now.  She held Boomer so tightly, he cried.

 

 

 

 

“Shangri-La.” Collected in Gutter Balls, by Cindy Rosmus. Copyright © 2007 by Fossil Publications.  Originally appeared in Sex and Guts Magazine, January 2004.  From www.sexandgutsmagazine.com.

 

 

 

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Art by Gin E L Fenton