Short-listed Entry: Fiction Category
By: Curtis James McConnell
that she wanted to prod him out of there before his time ran out with his money.
“Shoo-wee,” he breathed. “Usually it don’t happen so quick. Not that I didn’t get my money’ worth. Sure was fine. Kinda quick, though, just the same.”
If she didn’t talk, they took even longer to leave. “Sometimes it happens that way.”
“Yeah, I guess… well, I didn’t expect it so soon, ya know. But hey, I got no complaints, it being — business. It was my fault, I guess.”
She handed him his shirt.
“Listen, uh,” he sat there with only one arm in the shirt, the musty plaid flowing into the rancid chintz bedspread. “That guy I gave the money to, uh — what was his name, the big guy?”
“Is he okay?”
She went into the bathroom, not to do anything, just to be away. “He’s okay.” She washed her face.
“I mean, you know, not to pry or anything, but how much of what I gave him do you get?”
She reapplied makeup thickly to her black eye. “Albert takes care of me.” To her, the eye still looked bad. But it would do. It always did.
“Hardly seems fair. Here you are, doing all the work and he gets — he gets the money first.
“Don’t worry, sport. This girl won’t starve. He might get a little upset though, if I’m in here after services are rendered.”
“Oh tosh.” She heard the bedsprings squeak. “We haven’t had hardly time to do anything. Can’t a feller talk a mite?”
“Talk all you want, sport, but I need to go.”
“Yeah, I guess you do at that. Life in the big city and all. This whole town is new to me.”
She came out of the bathroom and saw him sitting there looking like another mark tallied off. He was looking out the window like there was actually something to see.
“This town is huge. Where you from?”
She said tonelessly, “Here.”
“That a fact. Well, well, well.” He continued to pull a sock up, though they were too old to stay up. Just like him. “Were you born right here in Hollywood?”
The answer came without her knowing she was even talking. “Sure. Born here, grew up here. Here.”
“Can’t imagine that. It’s my first time here.”
“I know,” she muttered.
“How’s that again?”
“No, really. I’m interested in what you got to say. Always been the curious sort, I guess.”
She pretended to straighten up the useless things on the dresser.
“I’m from Enterprise, Alabama.”
“Come out here on a free pass from the Elks Lodge, two days and three nights. Won in a raffle.”
“Yes. You said so. Look, could you speed it up a bit?”
“Look, I’ll put on my clothes at my own pace at least. If you’re done, you go on without me.”
“That’s not the way it works.”
“And why is that?” he asked. He buttoned two buttons of his shirt, but stopped when she spoke.
“It just is. No discounts for being from out of town, no discounts for however quick you got done, and no being in the rooms after I’m gone.”
“All right, all right, don’t get yourself out of whack there. I was just asking.”
“Well I was just answering.”
“Fella don’t know the ways and means, you jump all over him.”
She ignored him and angrily brushed her stringy hair.
“Aw, now don’t close me off, there, Vanessa baby. I mean, can’t we talk a little? I mean, we was just intimate together, ya know?”
Her look soured. “What the — ?” she stopped and sighed. “Look, sport, that might mean something back in Arkansas — ”
” — AlaBAMA.”
” — whatever. But it don’t mean jack here. You paid, you got what you came for, and in about fifteen minutes some other hopeless hick is gonna be in here having it.”
“Well I sure didn’t come out here for this,” he said, his thin lips disappearing entirely.
“Back home girls like you know their place.”
“Yeah? Well we ain’t back home, Johnnie, we’re in L freaking A and I don’t have a place.”
“Now why’d you go and call me Johnnie?” he whined. “When I done told you my name is Carl. I bet your name ain’t even Vanessa.”
A quick, explosive sigh of contempt. “My name’s Vanessa,” Pam said.
“Bet it ain’t.”
“Okay, it isn’t. Fine. Whatever.”
“What is it then?”
“Penny.” She’d seen that on an envelope when she’d gone through Angela’s purse.
This stopped Carl completely.
“For true? Penny? Cause I came out here partly to help out a friend of mine. Earl Gentry? This ol’ boy had a daughter named Penny. ‘Bout yay tall.” He held his palm
horizontally about four feet off the ground. “Oh, that girl was something else. Big ol’ blonde ponytail, hair so long she coulda set on it. Had one brown eye and one blue eye…” He shook his head in fond remembrance. Pam swallowed what she was about to say and closed her mouth.
“And smart?” he continued. “Went to Auburn when she was only fifteen. Never even went to high school, home schoolin’. That girl was bright as a dime in the dew. Why, she’d walk into a room just sparkling away. Which is why no sooner’n she got to Auburn she decided to quit and become a model. Then she decided she could come out here and be a movie star. They quit hearing from her after about six months. Earl, that’s Penny’s father, Earl Gentry?, asked me to kinda look around for her. Couple people come out here already, but no such luck. She’ll be seventeen come December third. She was staying with some friends, but they lost track of her, so they say.” He shook his head over the indecency of it all.
“Had a big ol’ brown splotch of a birthmark on the back of her left thigh. We trieda tell her she couldn’t be no model with that thang. But, her daddy spoilt her and let her go and here I am. Personally, I think she’s dead.”
Pam chewed her lip, thinking.
His foot popped as he put on one boot. He rubbed his other foot through the sweaty sock he’d left on through the whole deal. He smelled his hand after rubbing it. “Shoo-wee. Been a long day.”
“It has been for me too, sport. And it’s gonna be even longer if we don’t get moving. SO, if you don’t mind — ” she stood at the open door.
“Sure, sure, I’ll be on my way. Lemme et my other boot on here.” He bent down and tried to look up her short skirt as he reached for the boot. He groaned as he put it on.
“Ohhh, gets harder ever time. Well, I’ll be seeing you, Vanessa. I’m sorry I was quick.”
“Well, it happens.”
“Not usually, it don’t happen to me. Guess you kinda surprised me.”
“Or jet lag. Hear tell that’ll do it.”
“So they say.”
“I am sorry.”
She looked at him and shook her head. She sighed, very tiredly. “Well, go onto your motel there, guy. It’ll be all right.” She patted him out the back, gently pushing him out the door.
“Well, good night to ya,” he said. “Thank you for your time. Right nice.” How could old men look so boyishly inept?
“Good night.” She shut the door, leaning against it and wincing a little as she heard each boot clomp on the warped wooden floor. She chewed her lips as she heard the door to the stairs creak.
“Angela, girlfriend, momma’s got some stuff,” Pam called as she opened Angela’s door while knocking on it.
A scrawny cat looked balefully at her and hopped on the window sill. The bright morning sun hurt her eyes, and she was glad for the dingy vinyl pulldowns that turned Angela’s bedroom a washed-out orange. Why hadn’t she gotten out of this east-window room? Wasn’t Angela street enough to know that by now?
Pam sneezed three times in the dust. She smelled a sickly odor from the empty aquarium by the lamp.
Angela lay face down on the bed, her left leg with the splotchy birthmark thrust scrawnily towards Pam, her hair no longer blonde but rather a lifeless white, still miraculously long and splayed out in ratty strings on the bed. Pam sat beside her and fixed the needle.
“Angela, hon. Some stuff, Sugar.”
Angela stirred. “Oh hi, Pammy,” she said with a wan, dreamy smile. She licked a cold sore near the corner of her mouth. Even with her eyes dreamy slits, the one blue and the one brown were obvious.
“Got some stuff,” Pam said again. “Good stuff. All yours. I’ve had mine.”
Angela sat up with a slow effort and extended her bruised and tracked arm.
“Have to use the right one, I think. Collapsed a vein the other night on my left.”
She accepted the needle with a quick wince and then a placid smile. “Couldn’t hardly sleep,” she muttered. “Did twenty-three, got in about four. What time is it?”
Pam looked at her watch. She blinked blurrily at it, wanting to crash in Pam’s bed. She no longer felt the pain in her feet. That guy last night and his popping feet and groans. You gotta kick a lot of shit for your feet to hurt, she thought, but you only gotta walk half a block in heels. She’d walked so many half-blocks her feet were gonna still owe pain three years after she died.
He had smelled his hand. That’s what did it. She was just about to tell him, but you can’t when a guy does something like that. Who’s he gonna save? Himself, with the sagging drawers he tugged out of his butt on the way out?
She gave up trying to read the fatigue-blurred watch. “Just past six.
Angela nodded dreamily, as if that were the most normal time in the world.
Pam for a second thought Angela might o.d., but decided that too was just as well. She needed some of the stuff for herself. She remembered her purpose.
Angela flopped back on the bed, scratching her forearm as the needle stayed in Pam’s numb fingers.
That’ll hold her a good ten hours, Pam thought. She laid the needle and resinous spoon in plain view on the dresser. She thought about leaving some for evidence, but god, she needed it too.
She turned on her numb feet and walked as with artificial hips to the door.
Downstairs, she found a fairly decent piece of paper in the dumpster. She walked into the ratty little convenience store.
“Got a pen I can borrow?” she asked the wary clerk.
“Pencil,” he grunted.
“Can I borrow it?” She held up the paper as proof of her legitimate need of something to write with.
He took a chewed, stubby pencil off the cash register and pushed it to her on the counter.
She printed the note in her best scribble.
“Theres a 16year old minor in the casa grande hotel off Sunset, rm 12, she’s been working the street, Her name is Penny Jintree and her father is erl from Inerprise Allabamma or arkansaw. Help her. Before she turns 17, which is in about 2 wks. A Conserned Citison. Help her PLEASE!!!!!”
She underlined please nearly ten times, folded the note, and turned to walk out.
“Hey, got my pencil?” the clerk called.
She spun and pitched it to him. He fumbled it.
“Thanks,” she almost smiled, and spun again.
The two cops were still in the donut shop. She tucked the note under their windshield wiper, smiling and saying, “There’s a switch,” and strode home.
As she lay down and put a forearm over her eyes to block the light — thank god it was at least a north window — she chewed her lip, feeling as if she were hiding under her kitchen table, a pulse flopping in her throat like a landed fish.
Albert would find out; he always did. That’s the first thing he’d taught her, he always found out everything. He would beat her, maybe even put her in the hospital with a tube in her nose and a beeping machine like CeeCeegirl, but that too would pass. Either she died or she didn’t.
She had a patchy sleep, as always, even with the stuff, but she also had a pleasant dream about a getting off a bus in Enterprise, Alabama. The bus stop looked just like the one in Edina, Minnesota, but the girl, the long-haired girl with one blue eye and one brown eye and no black eyes ever again, was home. In the dream, she bent down near a grassy spot and picked up a bright dime glistening there in the dew. She was home.