He offered her a zombie cocktail, the suave motherfucker with his metro accent and his glassy-eyed laissez affair. I sat there and watched like it was a personal affront, burning the celo wrapper on my cigarette pack until it curled up into a blackened waxy ball I could flip at the waitress who’d been ignoring me for almost an hour. There will come a time when the illusion becomes real and you believe everything is grey cheese and fickle brain-eating amoebas warning us about the rat-pig rodent winter coming to a mass murder near you. I could kiss off all the criticism and consumer media, cause this new addiction I got falls just short of ear splitting ecstasy.
She was decked out in x-rated warning labels and firecrackers. She was as deadly as the switchblade strapped to her thigh. It made me jealous the way she toyed with proper Johns as if she were something, something other than what she was once, back in the dust bowl …
It was a season of extremes, seeing her here, a hitchhiker resurrection in hotel gift shop linens.
“New and Improved Ten-in-One Kootch” claimed the gargantuan sign over my head as the barker staked his claim with a red, orange, and white painted banner. We’d had the only show like it, but that was years ago, years best forgotten. I thought I’d seen the last of it, the last of her, but the sexy billboard off the interstate said otherwise. You’d think I would have learned by now that you never see the last of anything. Damn fancy-pants billboard advertisers! How do they know who you are? What you’re looking for? I hadn’t been on the circuit in years. Neither had she. She’d got tired of it all, the cheers and the jeers, the foul subtext, and all the creepy flophouse men. She’d got tired of being applauded with ignorance and vomit, so she made a bid and hit the dirt road in a turnip truck on it’s way to LA.
She’d had work done: liposuction, a little electrolysis, organic foods and herbal supplements. Throw in one silicone implant, a careful tuck, and a whole lot of clean living, and there she was, rubbin’ up against the beautiful people. Her days of walking with the dead were over, history, just a rotten childhood memory best left to the imagination of horror fiction writers and fetish freaks.
She had real style now, all capped teeth, kinky boots, and a shaved ass. She’d hit the majors. I settled farther into the shadows at the back of the room. Smoked my cigarette. I was used to it. The silence. The fear on their faces. No one ever looked directly at me, let alone looked me in the eye, no one except her. I missed her, and I hated the way the men looked at her. She’d finally figured out how much she was worth and had bid the gaffs a fond adieu for good.
She wasn’t just a sideshow anymore, she was an “act.” Things weren’t the same without her. I flipped open my tired old leather satchel. They were all rusty and dull. Everything was, until now. I might grow tired of watching her, someday, but for now, I’ll keep at it until she screams or begs me to stop.
By Cheryl Anne Gardner