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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Cindy Rosmus: Jet Fuel

102_ym_jetfuel_bernice.jpg
Art by Bernice Holtzman © 2024

Jet Fuel

 

by Cindy Rosmus

 

1989

 

 

The abortion would cost almost three hundred bucks at this place called the Women's Free Clinic.

Gina had just sixteen in tips from the night before, and she owed that to Walt. Everything she had belonged to Walt: her job at his bar, the bedroom she shared with her husband Nicky, even Nicky.

Unless Walt came up with three hundred bucks, he'd be the reluctant father—and grandfather—of her baby.

It happened in September, and it was Nicky's fault. If he hadn't lost their car in that poker game, Gina wouldn't have been drinking at noon. If she hadn't been bombed, she wouldn't have screwed Walt in the cellar. She would have fought him off. Into the Omni she would have jumped, and by the time she was on the Turnpike, her heart would have stopped pounding. She would have switched on the Doors and, before long, Nicky's face would have replaced Walt's in her mind. Nicky's face with Walt's shrewd, brown eyes.

But, thanks to Nicky, she had no car. And no one to drive her to the clinic. Each time she went, she waited half an hour for the bus both ways.

She hated that place: snot-green walls, posters which warned pregnant women not to smoke cigarettes or dope or down shots of 'Buca, bilingual demands for what little cash she had.

Most of all, she hated the clinic's sub-human staff. Monday a gum-snapping lab tech took a tube of Gina's blood and smacked a Band-Aid on her sore arm. The Middle Eastern doctor who examined Gina was too busy to be gentle. When he yanked off his rubber gloves, his hairy hands looked like tarantulas.

Wednesday the blood test came back positive, and this morning's urine test confirmed it. Gina glared at the counselor.

All she wanted was the price of the abortion. She didn’t need two weeks to change her mind.

Like her Mama had. Big Sal had saved Mama from the butcher’s block.

The bus crawled uptown. This time of day, it was packed with old ladies, and it stopped at every corner. Some would get off, more would get on, and by the time the bus reached the next corner, the light would be red. Then they’d just sit there. One lady with blue hair kept smiling at Gina. Gina was sick of smiling back.

She wiped the sweat from her face. It was the week before Thanksgiving, and she had nothing to be thankful for. She was only twenty-one and so broke, she couldn’t afford to dye her hair red anymore. She was pregnant—by her father-in-law! Walt had been so rough that she’d bled for hours. “You asked for it,” he’d sneered that night at the hospital, while they were waiting for the report on Nicky.

While Gina and Walt were fucking in the cellar, Nicky had had the shit beat out of him behind Skippy's Sports Bar. According to Nicky, five guys had jumped him, five guys who said they were sick of being conned by the third round of drinks, then stiffed when it was time for Nicky to pay up. His five pals had fixed it so he couldn't run away for a while.

It had been raining so hard that Nicky slipped and fell in the mud. He said they came at him two at a time; the others drank beer and watched. Punches and kicks broke his jaw and nose, cracked two of his ribs, and ruptured his spleen. Zack, the guy who broke Nicky's nose, had drunkenly sung the first verse of "Can Do" as he brought out the lead pipe. Then he shattered Nicky's right leg.

When the cops showed up, the five guys were gone. No one at Skippy's had seen a thing, they all said. The Yanks had just beat the Red Sox at Fenway Park and Stash, the bartender, was so bombed he was squirting tap beer at everyone who came in. Nicky's best friend, Puke Shoes McPherson, claimed he didn't even know it was raining.

Gina knew they were lying, and she wished she could prove it. The whole time Nicky was laid up, not one of them came to the hospital. There were no signatures on Nicky's cast and only one card—from the guys at Renko's, Walt's place—on his bedside table.

"Poor slob," Walt had said. "He'd be better off dead." So would you, Gina thought now. Crushed beneath the wheels of your big, white car. They hated each other for what had happened to Nicky.

Super-Mom Carol was Nicky's private nurse. Carol worked the night shift at St. Joe's so she could stay home with Nicky during the day. She checked his blood pressure, took his temperature, rewrapped his chest, and made sure his leg was elevated. She bathed him like he was a baby again.

Anything Nicky wanted, Nicky got. Carol cooked all of his favorite foods—breaded pork chops, kielbasy, tater tots with cheese. She baked smiley-face cookies with M&Ms for eyes. Thanks to Carol, Gina lost six pounds. Everything Gina ate tasted like it was eaten before.

When the bus passed Renko's, Walt was outside, lighting a cigarette. Gina pressed the buzzer and the bus stopped short. She got off, wondering how it would feel to pass City Line and go straight to the Square. She could ride the Path train to New York and blow Walt's sixteen bucks.

No, sixteen minus three to get home left only thirteen. But thirteen could be her lucky number.

To avoid meeting Walt in the doorway, Gina walked two blocks out of her way, so she could go in the back door. It was so warm, she unzipped her leather jacket.

 The sky was bright blue. She wished she were up in a plane, though she'd never flown in her life. She imagined being in the world's biggest car, with a stereo system like her old boyfriend Leo's. Wall-to-wall CDs and a full bar. A quadrophonic playroom in the sky, as far away from Slick Nick and the old man's dick as she could get.

She stopped outside Renko’s back door. Tell Walt now, or wait until tonight? Spit it out before lunch, or at six when he leaves?

For the first time that day, Gina really smiled. If she told him tonight, he'd need an erector set to get it up. And tonight was Carol's only night off.

Gina stood in the hallway, looking at the stairs. She dreaded going up so much that she was shaking. The hell with Walt, she'd have a drink first. But she still didn't move.

"Sink that bitch!" Cobra yelled from inside the bar. Gina heard the crack of balls on the pool table and then Pete's growl when he missed the shot. His pool stick struck the table with such force that Gina's heart jumped. She bolted up the stairs.

She tried the door, but it was locked. Downstairs, the guys were laughing. Walt said something and the laughter got louder. Gina groped in her purse for her keys.

"Buenas dias, Senorita," Cobra said from the foot of the stairs. "Can I buy you el drinko?"

Gina glared down at him. Cobra's grin was as gruesome as the skulls on his Harley shirt. "Oh, it's you," he said, slapping his forehead. "I guess it's frozen burritos again for lunch!"

Gina slammed the door. They used to tease her because she had red hair. Now they teased her because she didn't. She could still hear them laughing downstairs.

In the kitchen, she stopped dead. Carol had cleaned again. The curtains and blinds were gone, and the sun streamed through the windows. The floor was shiny, and it still looked wet. Even the magnets on the fridge were reorganized.

Something that smelled like feet was cooking in a huge pot on the stove. Gina covered her mouth with her hand and just made it to the bathroom.

There was no time to brush her teeth. The blinds were in the tub, soaking in ammonia that made her eyes water. She rinsed her mouth and rushed out before she fainted.

Carol was waiting for her in the kitchen. "What's wrong with you?" she demanded. "Slamming the door like that!" She gestured to the bedroom with the scissors, "What if he was sleeping?"

Gina didn't answer right away. She was shivering. She zipped up her jacket and folded her arms. "I'm sorry," she mut­tered at last.

Carol sniffed the air. "Are you sick again?"

"I had a hot dog in the park."

The sun gleamed on Carol's glasses. "If you've got the bug, stay away from him," she said, and hurried back into the bedroom.

Gina stared after her for a few minutes. Now she was sweating. She took off her jacket and hung it on the doorknob. She held her breath as she walked past the stove.

"Where's my chocolate milk?" Nicky asked, as Gina appeared in the doorway. "You forget it, again?"

"What do you think?" Carol said.

Gina stopped at the foot of the bed. Nicky was sitting up, his broken leg on three pillows. Gina's side of the bed was covered with rock-and-roll magazines and family-sized bags of Cheese Doodles and chips. Stuck in the waistband of Nicky's pajamas was the remote control for the TV. He was watching MTV. Guns N' Roses was singing "Patience."

"I'm sorry," Gina said, but by now she'd forgotten what for.

Something about Nicky's face was differ­ent. One of his cheeks looked fatter and his eyes might've crossed overnight. Then Gina realized Carol was cutting his hair. Carol grabbed the towel from Nicky's lap and shook it into the trash can. His eyes on the TV, Nicky picked up the hair that was left in his lap and flicked it in Carol's direction. "Not Bon Jovi again," he grumbled, as the video changed.

"Stop!" Carol wrapped the towel around his neck again. He shrugged it off as he brought out the remote.

"The Coug," he said, when he changed the channel. John Cougar Mellencamp was his favorite, now. "What time's lunch?"

"Never, if you don't sit still," Carol said.

"How do you feel?" Gina asked Nicky.

"Like I want chocolate. Where've you been all morning?"

"The park," Carol said, sarcastically. She combed back some of his wet hair. "Eating Sabretts and throwing crumbs to the squirrels."

Nicky looked coldly at Gina. "And you didn't bring me one?"

"Don't move!" Carol said.

 Gina picked up a Circus magazine and skimmed through it. She hadn't seen one since she was in high school.  "I'm . . . sick," she said finally.

"Then stay away from me!" Nicky yelled. "I'm sick of puking! All day Sunday I puked."

"You were drunk," Gina reminded him. Thank God she'd been sleeping on the pull-out couch.

For a minute Nicky looked as sullen as Walt. Then his eyes filled with tears. "Well, can you fuckin' blame me?" he said.

Carol held him close, rocking him and running her fingers through the hair she'd almost finished cutting. "It's okay," she whispered but glared at Gina.

Gina dropped the magazine onto the bed. "I'll go get the milk," she said, turning away.

"Forget it," Carol said.

"Gina!" Nicky cried on Gina's way out.

She came back. For the first time that day, she really looked at him. Loose hairs were stuck to his wet cheeks, making it look like he needed a shave. And he did. His nose hadn't healed right, no matter what Carol said. But his eyes were the same—brown, and soft, and a little crazed. They met Gina's almost shyly.  "Get a half-gallon," he said.

She ran out of the room. Her jacket was on the kitchen floor. She grabbed it and left the apartment, slam­ming the door as hard as she could. She hurried down the stairs and into the bar.

Walt was leaning across the bar, talking to Cobra and Pete. Gina took the Sambuca off the shelf behind Walt and poured herself a shot. "A buck-fifty," Walt said.

"Fuck yourself," Gina said and gulped the shot.

The two bikers snickered. Walt slowly turned around.

As Gina poured another shot, he yanked the bottle out of her hand. The look he gave her would have chilled her last month. Now, she glared back at him. "Come outside," she said. "I've got a surprise for you."

Mullaney walked in. "I'm busy," Walt said, as Mullaney sat next to Pete.

"I'll be outside," Gina said, walking away.

"Sit down," Walt commanded.

She sat at the other end of the bar. She didn't wave back to Mullaney. "What's wrong?" Mullaney asked Walt, who shrugged.

"Somebody's got a rag on," Cobra said, and Mullaney looked embarrassed.

"Close the drapes," Gina muttered, when Walt finally came over. "I'm sick of the sun."

He lit a True. She remembered the times she lit them for him, how he seized her wrist and stared into her eyes. Now he used a Bic lighter. His eyes were on the flame. "What's your problem?"

"Shots!" Pete yelled. He and Cobra slid their empty shot glasses down the bar.

"I'm pregnant," Gina said, as Walt reached behind him for the Jack Daniels.

"Make Jet Fuel," Cobra suggested. "Mix it with peppermint schnapps."

Walt just stood there with the bottle in his hand. "Since when?" he asked Gina.

"Mid-September."

He poured Jack into each of the shot glasses. "Is it his?"

"Nope."

He brought out the house schnapps.

"Not that brand!" Cobra said, but Walt poured it anyway.

Walt's eyes narrowed. "Then whose is it?" he asked Gina.

She stared back at him. "The bar­tender's."

"I ain't drinkin’ that shit!" Cobra whined.

Walt looked like he would smack some­body. He even made Cobra nervous, Gina realized. "Just kiddin', man," Cobra mumbled. Pete came to get the drinks himself. He tapped Gina on the head with his fist, but she ignored him.

"You're lying," Walt said, when Pete was gone.

"I wish I was." Gina smirked as he poured himself a shot of Jack.

"What about me?"

He put the bottle back on the shelf. "In your condition?" he said, bitterly.

"It won't last long."

Walt downed the shot and wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his sweater. It was the same blue sweater he'd been wearing the night they met. In February he had had a tan; now his face was almost white. "That's what you think," he said.

Gina began to feel queasy again. "But I don't want it."

"Too bad."

Her heart raced. "You won't give me the money?"

He shook his head. "You're stuck with it."

She watched him stab out his True in the ashtray. From the tattooed initials on the back of his hand, she looked up into his eyes. They were as wet and dark as a wolf’s. Walt's were nothing like Nicky's. She'd made a big, bad mistake about that one.

"I'll tell Nicky," she said softly, so her voice wouldn't crack, "and Carol." She heard somebody put quarters in the juke­box. "I'll tell them you raped me," she said, before the music could drown out her words. "I'll say you had a blade."

She looked anxiously around the room, as if for a better idea. "It was you who set up Nicky. Your own fucking son!"

"Chill out," Walt said, with a sigh. "I'm only kidding."

Tears were running down Gina's cheeks. "Give me a drink, you sonuvabitch."

He poured her a shot of Sambuca.

"Thanks," she muttered, wiping her face with a napkin.

"Why don't you want it?"

"Huh?"

Walt was smiling. "It might do him good. He'd get a kick out of being a father."

"It's not his," Gina reminded him.

Walt shrugged. "How would he know?"

She just stared at him.

"You know what I mean? He'd believe anything now."

Her eyes still on Walt, she gulped the shot.

"Tell him you fucked him the night he was bombed. Right before he got jumped. Act pissed that he doesn't remember." He leaned over the bar. "Tell him you came three times," he said, his face almost touching hers.

She looked down into the empty shot glass. "Go get the money."

"How much?" he said, without moving away from her.

She smiled into his ear. "Five hundred," she said.

"What?" he yelled. Four more guys came into the bar. Walt glared toward them with his fists clenched at his sides. "At the free fuckin' clinic?" he said under his breath.

"Would I lie?"

"Take a number," Cobra told the newcomers.

Gina stood up. "I've got to be there at four," she said.

"Today?"

"I'll work the bar till you get back."

He slammed his fist down on the bar. The shot glasses jumped. All eyes were on Walt as he ran out from behind the bar and then out the back door.

"Jet Fuel?" Gina asked Cobra.

She took her time making the drinks. Everybody seemed to be talking about Thanksgiving. Mullaney was homesick for his mother's pies. "Apple and rhubarb like nothing you'd eat today," he said. He looked so sad that Cobra bought a round of shots.

“Want one?" Cobra asked Gina.

Two shots of Sambuca had finally re­laxed her. She made enough Jet Fuel for three. Pete was bitching about last year's Thanksgiving dinner. "Pink turkey and little onion balls," he sneered, rubbing his huge belly as if he were still in pain.

Cobra nodded. "His wife's a lousy cook," he said. He ate at Pete's every holiday.

"But lots of Jack. We drank Jack all damn day and night, man."

Gina recalled that last Thanksgiving she didn't eat anything at all. She went with Leo and his friends to Skip's and everybody but her did so much coke that nobody but her wanted to eat. So nobody even cooked. She was furious every time she thought about it. Suddenly, she downed her shot.

"Not yet!" Pete said. "What's your hurry?"

"Happy fuckin’ Thanksgivin' to you, too." Cobra said to Gina.

She started to cry again. Then turned her back on both of them.

"Oh, jeez," Pete said.

In the mirror, she watched herself cry. Two years ago, she was pinched by Grandma halfway through Thanksgiving dinner. Gina had complained the drumstick was dry. Big Sal had reminded her that fifteen dry drumsticks ago her Mama had walked out the damn door. Between the drier lasagna and the main course. And never came back.

But there was lots of wine. Red, cheap wine. All you could drink until the worms get you.

"Come on, Gina. He didn't mean it," Cobra said.

"Me? You're the one who made her bawl! ' Happy fuckin' Thanksgiving'," Pete mimicked.

"Have one with me, sweetie," Mullaney said to Gina.

She wiped her face with her hands. She didn't say a word to any of them as she poured Jack into a tall glass.

What would this year's Thanksgiving be like? A sickroom dinner cooked by Four Eyes and later puked up by all? MTV in the background? Walt saying grace as head of the house? Or would they eat in shifts, since the bar stayed open on holidays for lonely, old guys like Mullaney?

She topped off her drink with pepper­mint schnapps. The good stuff.

She real­ized she'd never know what Thanksgiving with the Renkos would be like because tonight she was cutting out. For good.

"Yo!" Cobra said, holding out his arms. "That's what I call a family-sized shot!"

Gina laughed. "You got it," she said. But before she could drink it, Walt came back.

He slipped the money into her hand. "You're all set," he said to the back of her head.

"I need the car, too."

He dug his fingers into her shoulders. "Cobra can give you a lift on his bike."

 "A lift where?" Cobra said, eagerly.

Gina winked at him and sipped her drink. It tasted like bourbon-soaked cough drops. The first one had gone down so fast, she hadn't noticed how bad it tasted. "Don't drink and drive," she said, handing the glass to Cobra. She grabbed Walt's car keys off the bar.

"Come right back!" Walt snarled.

Gina turned and glared at him. "Where else would I go?"

"Where you off to, anyway?" Cobra asked.

She smiled. "Baby wants chocolate milk."

"What baby?" Cobra asked Walt, as Gina passed him.

Walt sighed. "The only one we've got."

Gina ran out the back door. The white Cadillac was parked in Walt's private spot. She couldn't wait to get in.

There was time to kill before the first race. She'd go for a ride, then show up at Skippy's. Find that guy, what was his name? The one Nicky said was an expert on horses. With the off-key voice and the lead-pipe baton. What's his name?

  Zack.

 

 

 

“Jet Fuel” by Cindy Rosmus. Collected in Gutter Balls © 2007 by Fossil Publications. “Jet Fuel” originally appeared in The Village Idiot, No. 13, May–August 1991. Copyright © 1991 by Mother of Ashes Press.

 

 

Cindy originally hails from the Ironbound section of Newark, NJ, once voted the “unfriendliest city on the planet.” She talks like Anybodys from West Side Story and everybody from Saturday Night Fever. Her noir/horror/bizarro stories have been published in the coolest places, such as Shotgun HoneyMegazineDark Dossier, Danse MacabreThe Rye Whiskey Review, Under the Bleachers, and Rock and a Hard Place. She is the editor/art director of Yellow Mama and has published seven collections of short stories. Cindy is a Gemini, a Christian, and an animal rights advocate.

Bernice Holtzman’s paintings and collages have appeared in shows at various venues in Manhattan, including the Back Fence in Greenwich Village, the Producer’s Club, the Black Door Gallery on W. 26th St., and one other place she can’t remember, but it was in a basement, and she was well received.

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