Short Stories & Other Mistakes
AN AVERAGE FRIDAY NIGHT
The woman at the ticket booth eyeballed us hard as we stumbled out into the lobby, but the place was seedy as Hell, rundown. It smelled of piss and popcorn and rancid butter. The glass on the snack counter was cracked and held together by strips of wrinkled duct tape. I dared such a joint to sit in judgment of me.
Other patrons, on the other hand, obviously had a low opinion of us, pointing and whispering as we tripped out to the parking lot, leaning on one another, belching, talking loudly.
"I'd a took off with that French girl," said Buck. He was the oldest brother, a year my senior.
"Yeah, like you'd've talked to her," said the other brother, Sam, a couple of years younger than me. At 23, he was already a divorcee with a kid.
"I don't have to talk," said Buck. "I got grass."
"Grass, grass," I hissed. "I'm tired as Hell of hearin' about the almighty weed."
"I still got grass," said Buck, "and you'd be amazed at what you can get a girl to do for it."
Sam chimed in. "You ever smoked it, Mike?"
I shook my head violently. "No, man. It reeks."
"No, no, dude. That's th' cheap stuff."
"It all smells pretty cheap to me, man. Gimme a beer or a bottle o' scotch or a little gin any day."
We arrived at my car, a huge tank of a car, a '72 Chevy Impala, olive drab.
"I don't know if I oughta drive, guys. I'm drunk as shit."
"You were drunk when you picked us up, you fool."
"Yeah, but not THIS drunk."
"I'll drive!" said Sam. Sam had destroyed around five cars by that time due to driving under the influence of various substances.
"NO, you won't. Get in, damn it."
The metal beast rolled down the street with ease, too much ease. It was difficult to keep the thing in the road because it was as wide as a lane and the steering reacted to the slightest disturbance. The streetlights were as big as dandelions, blurry and super-radiant, distracting. My eyes were narrowed to slits in an attempt to see through the painful glare of oncoming traffic.
"Heh, you're sweatin' like a pig, Mike!" called Sam.
I could feel Buck's smirk from the back seat.
"You wanna pick up some girls, Mike?"
"Th' last girl I saw you with looked like she had syph."
Sam laughed loudly.
"No, really, man. You wanna pick up some girls?"
"What do you know about pickin' up girls, stoner?"
"Dope, man. I told ya, I got dope."
Sam became suddenly solemn.
"He's tellin' th' truth. No shit. We got laid four times last week, good lookin' college girls."
"Look, I go to that fuckin' university and I can TELL you, those are some really cold people there. 'Specially th' women."
"Pot warms 'em up."
"An acetylene torch wouldn't put a damn dent in one o' those icebergs."
"You don't know the power of weed, Mike. You don't know."
I stopped at a light. Barely.
"O.k. I give. Prove it. Where do we go?"
Buck leaned over the seat.
"Yeah, now you're talkin'. Drive over to Normaltown."
"Trust me, man. In an hour you'll be up to your eyes in tits-n-ass."
Normaltown was the part of Athens, Georgia that used to be the location of the women's teaching school - a "Normal School." Now, it was just a run-down area a few miles from downtown, from the University of Georgia. It was a sleepy, peaceful little community with a plate glass front hardware store and a pool hall on the strip you drove down on the way to the Classic City proper.
My monster green vehicle was trolling its main street on what I thought was a fool's errand deluxe.
I did. We wove down an uninhabited side street, dodging parked cars and stray dogs. The houses there were old, but nice. Lights in the windows were amber, soft, peaceful.
Another side street, this one beneath huge oaks with more cars and houses. These houses were bigger than the others, older. This street went on for awhile and I began to wonder if Buck and Sam hadn't gone to sleep when Buck yelled, "Stop!"
I screeched to a halt.
"Park it, man. We walk from here on in."
We got out and began to walk down the street, our way dimly illuminated by a full moon peeking through the trees. The alcohol effect was beginning to fade a little and I was left with the sensation of being robbed. I could see Sam grinning in the gloom.
"That's it, " he said, pointing at a large Victorian house with a yellow bug light gleaming on the porch.
"What's it?" I asked, confused.
"You'll see," said Buck.
As we walked up to the porch, a man stepped out of the bushes and scared the shit out of me. I would have turned around and ran had Buck not grabbed my wrist.
"What y'all want?" asked the man. He was a big one, a black-bearded mountain of a man in a red flannel shirt and jeans. I thought I saw a pistol on his belt.
Oh, God, I thought. What have I done?
"Jerome called us, " said Buck.
"For what?" replied the man.
"A drink of water, " said Sam.
"Who's that?" The man was pointing at me.
The man motioned for us to follow him. We did. He led us through an opening in a hedge that ringed the house, then to a screened back porch where he knocked on the door. Someone opened it from within. We walked up the steps and I saw who it was - another man, even bigger than the first, holding a sawed-off shotgun. He showed a toothy smile.
"How y'all boys payin'?"
Buck pulled up the leg of his pants. There was a plastic bag taped to his leg, a big bag of pot that looked like a medium-shaped black brick.
"Go on in. Y'all have a GOOD time."
I leaned against Buck and whispered, "Where the fuck are we?"
"Whorehouse," he said matter of factly.
"Oh, shit. What happened to your big stories about 'college girls' and all that, you asshole?"
Sam looked at me.
"They ARE college girls. It's how they're workin' their way through."
"You'll see, man."
We came in through what used to be the kitchen. The stove was an antique, a white porcelain-looking thing with a stovepipe; the sinks were permanently stained a yellow-brown, but looked clean. There was a new refrigerator and a blonde girl in black silk pajamas there getting a beer.
"Hi, guys!" she said, voice bright and face cheerleader cute. "C'mon in and make yourselves at home."
She passed us beers and we all said thanks before following her into the large parlor.
"Hey," she said, "I recognize you two!" Sam and Buck nodded.
"Yeah, we've been coming in here pretty often lately."
"You've got pot, right?"
"Yeah. Plenty of it." Buck patted his leg. The girl was mesmerized.
The parlor was an eclectically decorated place. An antique red, black, and white Turkish rug blanketed the floor. In front of three walls were long couches with embroidered cushions; the legs of the couches were carved lion's claws. There was a fireplace with a small, cozy fire and above, a very old, dark oil portrait of a gentleman, mid nineteenth century I figured. On either side of the portrait were silver candelabras with creamy candles that burned with a gentle golden light. In another corner was a nice mahogany table, art nouveau-style, the one supporting leg a twisting lily stalk. Atop the table was a jewel-like Tiffany lamp with smoldering stained glass shade, dragonfly motif. The greens and blues were as unreal and dreamlike as the situation.
The girl smiled sweetly and waved us to one of the rich couches. The brothers sank in with complete ease while I stiffly found a place, heart pounding like a locomotive piston.
"Let me go get the other girls," she said and then walked through a high narrow door to our right.
"Heh. Just wait, dude," whispered Sam.
The door reopened and Black Pajamas led a line of laughing, beautiful
women into the room. There were eight of them, a mixed bunch. A couple
were black, a couple Asian; there was one gorgeous Hispanic girl. The
other three were white - Black Pajamas and two others. It was
overwhelming, their close, curvy bodies and the warm spicy smells of their
"Well I'll be damned, it's Mike."
The guys looked at me, surprised. One of the girls recognized me and I recognized her. Yeah, I recognized her. It was Samantha, a model from my figure drawing class. A model and then some. I had known her for a year; once in a while we ate lunch together at the cheap Chinese joint - nothing romantic, really... not on her part, anyway. Samantha just liked my company sometimes, and for my part, she was the nicest girl I'd met at that God forsaken university.
The nicest girl at the university was a whore.
"Yeah, I'll be damned, too."
The brothers giggled, digging out the bag of dope. One of the girls had a little scale and some baggies and Buck began weighing out the grass. The odor was heavy, resinous, sickening.
"How many hours you want, man?" asked Buck.
Samantha spoke up as I searched for an answer.
"He'll take one hour for pay. He'll get an extra for free."
She glanced at me with her large, chocolate colored eyes and shocked me with her forwardness. It was as if she wanted to know whether her choice was all right but also wanted me to know she was serious. The look was one she had given me a few times before in more innocent situations in more innocent days. My mouth opened a little then closed; I nodded slightly. The brothers laughed out loud.
"Well, I guess you showed us, didn'tcha?" asked Sam.
I didn't know what to say so I didn't say anything. Samantha came over, accepted her bag of pot from Buck, took me by the hand and led me out of the room through the narrow door. We went down a dark hall to a stairway and ascended up into a barely lit landing, turned and climbed another flight. I considered running and my hands began shaking; Samantha's small, strong hand closed more tightly on mine. I felt both trapped and intrigued and still drunk. My judgment was shot and the heat of lust and loneliness were swallowing up whatever rationality I had left. This was one of those utterly improbable tales they print in men's magazine, like the one where the beautiful, stacked mail carrier delivers a package to the guy who's naked and horny, so she gives him a blowjob.
We were at the door. We went in and she locked it behind us. I started to turn on a light but Samantha touched my hand.
"No, we'll use candles."
She flicked her lighter on to show a wonderful dark paneled room with scores of candles, like a shrine. She lit a few and then handed me one of the longer, burning so I could help. It took a while, but I figured I had the time.
There were many drawings in frames, drawings in sepia and charcoal of a beautiful nude woman - the same one whose bedroom I was in.
Samantha pulled a bong from a cabinet next to the bed and began loading it up.
"You smoke?" she asked.
"No. You got any liquor?"
She reached into the cabinet, pulled out a bottle of vodka and another of cranberry juice. Then, a waterglass. I mixed a couple of drinks while the girl sucked in deep lungfulls of thick, irritating smoke. I was into my third drink by the time she was finished.
"You're still drinking hard," Samantha said, matter of factly. She had seen me hung over or half-lit in class many times.
"I see you've picked up a few new tricks."
"So to speak."
We laughed nervously. She slid the water pipe back into its home. Samantha was a model in the old-style. Her figure would have been a big hit back in the '50s - large breasts and nipples, smooth, round belly, generous hips and figure-eight ass. But she was all '90s - her bellybutton was pierced as was her tongue and her upper left arm was heavily tattooed with an abstract design that looked like layers of black flame braiding in and out of one another. I had done a drawing once of that arm and still thought of both arm and image once in a while.
She slung her shoulder-length hair - the same deep brown as her eyes - around for a moment and put one hand on her long, thin neck. She looked at me strangely.
"What?" I said.
"What are we going to do for two hours, Mike?"
"Why'd you choose me, Samantha? You know I'm not much of a ladies' man..."
"Who better to visit a whore house? And I'm not much of a lady, anyway."
"I always thought you were."
I tossed back the rest of the vodka and juice.
"Ha. What are you trying to do, seduce me? You dumbass, I'm paid for already."
"Suit yourself. But I'll think what I want."
"You always did think way too much, man. That shit you used to talk at the Chinese place - stuff about life and politics and art..."
I sat on the bed.
"That was supposed to impress you - you never noticed."
"Oh, I noticed. I just didn't play along."
She looked away for a second, not sadly but in deep contemplation of something.
"That's not the way the game is played."
"Mine. My game, my rules."
"You mean this place?"
She nodded, but not wholeheartedly.
"This place and... other things."
"I don't get it," I said suddenly. "I meant nothing to you as a man when I bought you lunch and showed you attention - when I really liked you - and then I show up here by accident with a friend doling out dope and I'm The One. For two hours, anyway."
"I don't expect you to understand it. I don't want you to. Let's just have a good time."
I got up and pulled the bottle of vodka from the cabinet, took a long pull on it and licked my itching lips.
"Yeah? Well, too bad, Samantha. You're PAID FOR, right? And you're paid to perform. So, I want to hear a good answer in return for the payment."
She sat on the bed and her tight black skirt rode up to reveal thigh-high black socks. I figured it was on purpose and ignored the show. Samantha's eyes flashed, hurt, trapped, frustrated.
"I'm not sure I want you here, now."
I shut my eyes and sighed.
"Suit yourself. It was gonna be the easiest trick you've ever turned."
She was up and in my face in a flash. I could feel her angry breath on my neck.
"No! No, dammit, there's nothing easy about it at all! What do you know about it?"
"Yeah, and that makes you better than me?"
I gritted my teeth, mad as Hell.
"Does it make YOU better than ME?"
She turned again, thinking.
"No," she said quietly. "I guess it doesn't."
"Look. You are the nicest girl I ever met in this shit town and even you treated me kind of... lightly. Kept ME at arm's length while sleeping with anyone who had the dough, right? God, why? You wouldn't even tell me the PRICE so that I could buy you in the first place! Why couldn't you just tell me to go to Hell instead of fading away and leaving me wondering what might have happened...?"
"What makes you think I owe you anything, boy? Can't you just be satisfied that I liked to eat lunch with you way back when and let it GO?"
I remembered her laughing quietly at my jokes. I remembered my sketches and finished drawings of her roundness, her naked curves, her sexiness - dozens and dozens of drawings to this day kept safe in my closet, taken out on lonely nights to taunt me, to question me...
"I'm not satisfied with that. I never was satisfied with that. Not a day's gone by for months that I haven't thought about you."
"Liar. You mean my body. You remember my body."
"I know you through your body..."
"You don't know me at all."
And she was right, after all. My face agreed. In one moment I realized that I didn't know a thing about this woman. All I had were ghosts of a ghost, drawings and memories of someone who had always been acting a part instead of simply... being. Did she fail to reveal her secret life to me because she had cared about me or because she didn't care for me at all? Or was it something else?
Was her soul all dark and frightening behind the beautiful skin - or was it me who radiated the horror? I flinched.
Her mouth wrenched itself into a bitter shape and said, "Yeah. That's what I thought."
The vodka had ceased to have an aftertaste or any taste at all. It was easy, like drinking water, easy like watching a cherished fantasy go up in flames. I capped the bottle then threw it against the wall where it landed with an impotent thud.
"I can get you another girl," she said mechanically.
"Then you don't know me, either."
I was out the door, nearly falling down the stairs.
Then I turned back around - her eyes were wide, surprised as I grabbed her arm; the breath went out of her mouth hard as I ran my hands around her body, clothing peeling off, dissolving.
"But...?" she started.
I clamped my mouth down across hers hard, and though prostitutes are not known to kiss their johns, Samantha kissed me that night, and we kissed until we fell to the floor in anger and frustration and lust, trying to fuse into one glowing mass by means of sheer, pulsing sex.
She lay there quietly, eyes shut as I put my clothing back on. I looked on her curves one final time, curves that I wished my hands would be fitted to from now on, but knew that they were up for the highest bidder, whoever that might be. And I was busted. Was there something to be said? Should I beg her to come with me? To tell me all of this actually meant something beyond the fading moment? To tell me... anything?
I left without a word, the smell of our passion hanging thick in the air, soon to be replaced by incense and dope and perfume and some other man's aftershave...
The shadows and drunkenness caused the angles of the hallways to seem weird, like in Chuck Jones' Bugs Bunny cartoons. Before long I had stumbled into the living room where a well-dressed frat boy sat in the midst of bizarre opulence waiting his turn and trying to discern from the room's appearance just what was to come.
"There's a real live one waitin' for you, bub," I hissed.
On my way into the kitchen I ran headlong into Black Pajamas; she let her disgust show for a moment before recovering.
"Well, well! That was fast! Do you need another beer? What about another girl?"
I patted her firm ass and said, "Not if you were th' last piece of meat on the block, babe."
Her low scream of hatred followed me out the door to the back porch where I found the large, shotgun-wielding man sitting and smoking.
"How'd ya like it," he asked in a friendly way.
"Finest time I've ever had with a woman."
"That's what we like ta hear."
I started to leave.
"Hey, what about them boys you came in with?"
"They know how to call a cab, I bet. Or walk."
He nodded, unconcerned, and I made my way into the yard, past the other guard, down the cool street to my big car looming in the shadows. I didn't give a damn whether I wrecked or got caught. So I left in a hurry - scraped a truck on the way out of the side streets and didn't hang around to find out who the owner was. There was no question of keeping the car in its lane...
I woke up parked sideways in the front yard of the brick house I rented a room in. The sun was up and had been for awhile, joggers were passing by. A few gave me a knowing look, the rest were simply disgusted. I didn't even bother reparking the thing before going in and going up to my room.
The drawings rested like a coiled up snake in my bedroom closet and, after washing out my acid-tinged mouth and taking something for my pounding head, I took them out, rolled them up, and stuffed them in the garbage can out at the curb.
The hangover lasted two days.
Buck and Sam never said a word to me about that night and I never offered an explanation. There wasn't any to give.
I never saw Samantha again.
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