She scratched at black gravel bits embedded in her palm, cursing that dumb sonofabitch in whispersfirst one she'd laughed with in months, danced for, cared some, came damn close to loving, but weren't they all like that? Two press-on nails splintered before removing a single pebble. She sucked the digits, pausing for pain in the middle of the boulevard. A Datsun swerved 'round, horn whimpering, straining to clutch its lawnmower in the bed. Her head pounded. Could be worse. The roll had saved her. Luckily, when kicked out a car, practice makes perfect.
Daybreak teased as she smacked along, barefoot. The casualties of an all-nighter were strewn about a porch couch up ahead: two boys, hairless, slender, college. Music seeped out the windows and brought goose bumps. She adjusted her pleather halter, wishing for a compact to spruce up. Purse was probably flung from the Porsche too. She winked at the boys before marching inside their apartment.
Slanted posters rehashed her teenage music catalogue, verbatim: Descendents, Circle Jerks, Op Ivy. Those vibrant days, the world in front of her. A shirtless blonde was slunk on a stool, over a tallboy. She went for the fridge and got her own, the door plastered with band stickers. The High Life went down smooth. She searched tabletops for good time paraphernalia, fiending for anything but this. Footsteps came from the hallway. She stood erect, amplifying her assets. A fat longhair emerged, eyes bugged.
"Who the fuck are you?"
She giggled. "Hey there."
The guy's head gave a Labrador tilt.
"No, silly." She plugged a nostril. "Tinagot any?" She approached, strumming his chest through an open vest.
"Ugh, Chip mightwhere'd you come from?"
"Your dreams, honey. Which one's Chip?"
He awoke the slumping blonde, filling him in before grabbing the others out on the porch. Chip staggered to life, pounding dregs before holding her close. His neck pulsed praying hands.
"Whatchu gonna give me for it, huh, princess?"
She turned her head from his sour mouth, effortlessly removing her top. The act struck paralysis in the boys walking in. Her hands honked and smooshed.
"Just gimme somesee what happens."
Haggard eyes met across the room. One of the couch crew mouthed, Whoa. The other whispered, "Dude, she's like forty."
Chip rifled through his pockets, dangling a baggie before her giant eyes. "Mitch, call Germ to bring more over!"
She grabbed the dope and pressed it to her heart. The fatty swooped keys off the table, handing them over as Chip fumbled with her rhinestone belt buckle. Scooping a monster bump, she fixated on the keychain, a Walk of Fame starsome girl's name on it. She reminisced for a beat, licking her lips before blasting into normalcy.
"Holy shitLucille Ball!"
A slovenly black woman rolled her eyes under tents of purple eye shadow. "That's nice, baby. Come on!"
"Sorry. Never saw these stars before."
"You gonna have plenty a time, balee dat. First time in Cali?"
The woman flinched. "And you've never seen these?"
"Nope. Never ventured out...'til now, I mean."
"How old a you?"
"Older'n I look."
"Sure you wanna do this?"
"Yeah, why not?" Slumming for change on Melrose wasn't exactly panning out.
"'Kay, most nights you just be hangin' at that D.T. on Santa Monica. Saturday's doh, you be hereappointments only. I'll grab da room fo' ya but don't want none a dem fools you run wit makin' it a shootin' gallery, ya hear?"
She nodded. "I don't do that stuff, you know?"
"Don't give a fuck, sista. Ya binness, ya binnesslong as it don't fuck wit my binness. On dat note." The girl rifled through her clutch, pulling out a glass rose and torch. "Let's roll back a sec."
They ducked from blinking neon into an alley, huddling behind a rusted dumpster. Startled cockroaches scurried for sanctum as her new friend twirled the rose at her lips, crackling its contents into a thin grey plume. Her turn. Once the goods were gone, they lit Newports and wandered back under the electric circus.
"Kay, girl. You meetin' da first one on Selma an' Wilcox. Here."
Eyes drooping, she grabbed the key outstretched to her.
"Need me to go over da rates again?"
"Nono. I got it. Money first."
"You be fine."
She smiled. "Thanks, Charmaine."
"Call me Mama, girl."
"Ya-huh, dats what they all be callin' me. Whateva you need, just ask Mama."
She began to tear, looping arms around those gargantuan hips, ear nestled on those giant pillows. Gentle beats of the heart were soothing. The party in her brain helped too. Could stay like this forever.
"Shhshh. Mama's here, baby. Gonna be awright. You safe now."
The rafters shook once her back slammed into the wall, droplets of Holy Water raining upon her like a firestorm on innocent civilians. She thrashed to no avail. A dining room chandelier flickered at random. Her mother's grip was too strong, too righteous, slamming her repeatedly into the light switch while praising his name with conviction.
"Save her, Lord! My baby girl is lost! Show her your light and goodness, oh King of Kings!"
She spat at the woman's mouth, managing to break free once the recoil hit, sprinting for refuge in the living room.
"Forgive her, Lord! She knows not the evil of her transgressions!"
She lunged for the fireplace, grabbing a poker, wishing it was red hot. Her face was soaked, salvation fire now bombing at a distance. Mother stood before the shaking lance at her guts, eyes closed, mumbling scripture while raising a jazz hand.
"Stay back! I'll fucking kill you!"
An eerie calmness made its way through the homely woman's core. Long, smooth inhales brought her back down from heaven. "Darling, the Lord has a plan for you and it's not thislet him guide you. Be one with the Spirit."
"I said stay back!" Fuck your god, mother. "I'm leaving for good."
Mother smiled, whispering, "Forgive her, Jesus," before the rage. "How in the heck do you think you're gonna make it out thereyou're only a child!"
"I'll be eighteen in a week, mother. Now, step aside!"
"Honey, you are going to the cleansing retreatPastor Tim already set everything up. We can't go disappointing the church's wishes now."
Hypocrite. "Mother, how many times do I have to say it? This is your church. I've respected that and kept my mouth shut when you made the decision but since you've been saved..."
"Honey, why can't it be our church? You know He loves youyou were made in His likeness." The floating smile was a dagger.
"Mother..." She began to sob, poker going lax.
"Here, here. Come into these arms."
"No!" The iron shot up to her throat.
Mother held her ground, raining more salvation, praising for his guidance.
She felt the cool of the window at her back. With mother's eyes closed, she swung, shattering it with two blows. Never felt such strength. Mother lunged but years of weight had her slow. She went through the hole like a rabbit from hound, then running, running, 'til the burning quashed inside.
Their creepers pounded pavement: hers plaid, Cat's cheetah. Cat grabbed the sixer without even telling her. Actually, she yelled, "Run." An immigrant clerk shook his fist under amber fluorescence. His stature diminished with each pounce into darkness. After four blocks, they took sanctuary on some church steps, struggling for air between giant bursts of laughter.
Cat gave a sly grin. "Oh, I know you love me. Break out those smokes."
She reached in her denim vest, black patches Frankensteined askew. "Barely had 'em in my hand before you bailed. We need a better system."
"Nah," Cat said, cracking an Icehouse, "just better beers."
She lit two cigs and handed one over.
Cat exchanged it for a can, taking a puff. "What the hell are these?"
She held the stick away from her face and read the pack. "Bensen and Hedges. Menthol?"
"Fuck, we do need a better system."
She seeped smoke, ignoring the inhale. "What time the show start?"
"Last time they played Frogs, doors opened at eight."
"Twenty-one and over, right?"
"Fuck yeahganked my sister's I.D. Got one, right?"
"Yup, looks nothin' like me either."
"Whatever, man. Know it'll work."
She swilled skunk. "Gross! Wish you'd grabbed cold ones for a change."
"I fuckin' got what I could, bitch! You're on the brew crew tomorrow."
They forced more gulps.
"I like that new color."
Cat strummed purple locks pouring from her temples; head was shaved everywhere else. "Thanks."
"Wish I could do mine like...like slime green."
She slurped and shrugged.
"Who gives a shit about your mom? Just do it!"
"I knowit's just...I dunno."
"You only get one life, bitch. Do what the fuck you want."
"Yeah, yeah. Banzai!"
They both chugged their cans, piss liquid dribbling off their pimples.
Cat burped. "Winner!"
She grabbed her stomach, willing the liquid to stay down. "Big surprise."
"Oh, shit! Check out what else I got from my sister's drawer."
They stared at a Ziploc harboring grey earthy shreds.
"What is it?"
"You never done 'shrooms before?"
She grimaced. "You have?"
"No but...come on, we'll each take a handful. It's prolly just like that tree we smoked at Ronnie's. How could it be worse?"
"Come on, you know it'll be sick. Need something to get you on that stage."
"Oh, man. If I get up there, Milo's gettin' the wettest kiss ever."
They chuckled, pausing in blank stares.
"Don't be such a pussy."
She watched as Cat pretended they didn't taste like turds. The baggy landed on her lap. Thoughts of her mom driving up were sent to the back of her brain. Like the woman was even capable; she'd never leave Craig at that pub all by himself. She flicked the cig and proceeded to munch.
She wiggled toes in the warm sand, lapping dollops of mayo from the corners of a crustless baloney sandwich. Salt in the air made it twice as good. Her father's thick fingers swabbed breadcrumbs off her cheeks, wiping them on his navy button up, a cursive Rick stitched over his heart. She turned to spot mommy, smoking in the distance. They ate in silence, watching silken waves crash as surfers paddled for glory.
"You know this has nothing to do with you."
She squinted up at him.
"It's just one of those things that sometimes happen to grown-ups." He paused for a bite.
"Where are you going, daddy?"
"Honey, I'm not going anywhere. Who said that?"
She glanced over her shoulder again. Mommy's back was turned.
He mumbled, "Fucking Christ."
At the shore, children retreated from icy whitewash, screaming till the tides sucked it all back in. One of the kids, a girl about her age, didn't make it, knocked over by a gentle wave as her friends laughed with their whole bodies.
"Listen, don't believe everything your mother tells you, okay?"
She squinted back up.
"There's gonna be a lot of things said about me and none of it's true. Your mother's no angel either...."
Her sandwich dropped to the sand.
"Uh-oh." He snatched it up, handing her the remainder of his. "Here you go, princess."
She smiled, carefully cropping the edges, palms encrusted by granules. Mommy's voice resonated behind.
"So, did you tell her?"
Daddy rose, clapping sand from his tush. "No, I haven'tthink it should be her choice, Donna! At least ask her what she wantsI mean, look where the fuck our decisions have brought us."
A whistle blew from the lifeguard tower. She watched as a leathery man grabbed a rescue buoy and sprinted to the shore. A woman bounced in a frilled one-piece, finger out, howling at the sea as the lifeguard dove with precision.
Her parents bickered as she approached the commotion. Children and surfers peered with porcelain eyes as the lifeguard waded through riptide, clutching a limp body to his chest, the girl beaten by the wave. A yellow patrol truck approached with caution, orange berries twirling atop. More guards helped splay the girl on a stretcher before attempting resuscitation. She gazed on in wonder until being pulled up by mommy and whisked away.
"Rick, I gave you chance after chance and you fucked 'em all up. We'll just settle this in court, okay?"
Daddy pleaded as she nestled her ear to mommy's fluttering heartbeat. Morbid images flourished for the first time; this cruel, cruel world. She pretended it was fake, all of it. That little girl was still running from those waves, screaming under the sun, basking in the confines of an unforgettable day.
Donna vacuumed the breeze through her nostrils, exhaling slowly out the mouth: in, out, repeat. Her nerves were a sparking livewire, tears beaten back by fits of laughter. Dread, fear, shame, and angst pinballed through her core. Shouldn't she be happy with such news? Strumming her navel in gentle circles, she strode down PCH with purpose.
Pierside Liquor was the first stop. Best way to track his scent. Wayne was on shift, reloading Chesterfields above the register. Bottles behind him bounced soft beams of dusk. He paused at her rapid approach.
"You seen Rick?"
"Earlier. Was headin' down to the Bull Pen."
"What he buy?"
"Nothin' reallysmokes and a scratcher."
"He comes back, tellim I gotta talk to him."
The Bull Pen was a good mile plus. Why didn't she change out of these damn flip-flops? Not like she hadn't made the same trek in them before. Rick was a rambler, one of the many strange tics that reeled her in. That smile toowhenever up to no good. Those tiny fucking teeth.
Darkness cast heavy in the bar, broken by the glow of a heated Dodgers-Angels skirmish. A short barkeep diced lemons before an elderly couple, squabbling over the exact location of Desilu Studios.
"Hey, Donna! The usual?"
"I'm good, Marty. Seen Rick today?"
He nodded. "Stopped by for a few. Left coupla hours ago."
"Say where he's headin'?"
He shrugged. "Oh, wait. Mentioned something about The Deuce."
She grumbled a thanks.
Even with the sun at its lowest point, she shielded her eyes out the door. The Deuce was only a few blocks back. What she wouldn't give for that drink. Her mind juggled names of girls to kill the craving. Shastatoo trashy. Marcythat bitch from kindergarten. Blisters burned on each hammer toe, heels pink and callused. Better be there.
She marched down the back corridor towards bursts of laughter. Sounded like the usuals in attendance: pier rats, avenue locals, high school ex-boyfriends. Was dead on except for some newcomers, gracing corner stools: two blondes, twenties, bush pigs. The men were huddled, loopy, being boys. Place smelled like kid hair. She shot an awkward eye, yuks puttering as she approached. Clanks from the shuffleboard broke the silence.
"Tommy, where's Rick?"
An overweight postman raised his shoulders before diving back into his glass.
A lanky burnout turned to the rest of the pack.
Her hands shot out. "Anybody?"
One of the girls let out a squeal.
"The fuck's this cunt laughing at?"
The girls giggled in unison, and then she heard it, coming from the men's shitter. She paused at the door, knowing damn well the sounds bellowing inside. Her palm pressed it open. Rick's back and bare ass. Some redhead, legs pretzeled 'round, red nails clawing.
"Shut the fuckin' door, Spuds!"
She pulled back slow before gunning past stone patrons and out the front door.
Commuters whizzed reckless down the boulevard as she tranced at their taillights, stomping towards hometheir home. She kicked off the flops and braved on barefoot. Forced fits of laughter fell short; the battle lost this time. Rustling palm fronds kept her company. She commenced juggling names. Then it hit. Joyif it was indeed a girl. A smile came under glistening cheekbones. Look out world, Joy was coming to conquer.
Copyright © 2011 by Nolan Knight