Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Night Off

on her day off
the prostitute wakes up alone
the night's chill
- Chiyo-ni

The lights and sounds of rush hour traffic rouses Suzy from her sleep. She glances at her cell phone and wonders why the alarm hasn’t gone off then remembers that the night is hers.

The bed next to her is empty. She wonders if her last customer robbed her or if he was kind-hearted enough to leave his payment, and the rest of her earnings, under the mattress. A quick check assures her stash is untouched.

Suzy runs her fingers through her thinning brown hair, trying not to notice the lice as she lights a used cigarette. She debates getting food or a quick shower at the local YMCA. It was Tuesday. Enzo works the front desk the first half of the week; maybe he’ll let her shower in exchange for a blowjob or quickie so she can use her money to buy dinner.

The room is chilly as she slides out from under the thin blanket, pretending not to see the mice scurrying away. Maybe it’s time to relocate—move to Florida where the old-timers retire. She could make a fortune off them and their shriveled up dicks that barely got hard anymore.

Suzy laughs aloud at the thought. As if her pimp would ever let her go.

She uses the cracked toilet in the corner of the room then slips on her cleanest clothes. Suzy picks up the vodka bottle from the nightstand and finishes the rest in one swig. Maybe Enzo will buy her more if she offers to let him spend the night with her. Just in case, she pulls $10 out from her stash.

Suzy slips on her worn heels then locks the door and heads up the stairs. Behind her she hears a woman screaming as she’s beaten. She wonders if it’s their pimp or an unruly customer. Not that it matters much. After the first few beatings, you only hope to live through it.

The YMCA is only a few blocks away. Suzy barely notices the cold March air as she makes her way down the street, weaving between the drug dealers, crackheads, and other working girls. The wail of police sirens nearby encourages her to walk faster.

Enzo greets her with a smile. He’s wearing his usual outfit: a stained T-shirt that barely covers his large stomach, sweatpants stretched as much as they can, and holey sneakers. His bald head is covered with a Mets baseball cap.

He presses the button to let her in. “Here’s a towel. When you’re done, we can go into the office.”

Suzy takes the cotton towel then kisses his cheek. “Thank you.”

The hot water feels good against her skin as she uses the cheap soap they provide to clean a week’s worth of grime from her malnourished body then washes her hair as she thinks about Enzo. He is always good to her. Better than she deserves. She quickly dries off then gets dressed again.

Enzo is in the office, waiting for her. “What would you like tonight?” she asks.

“Dinner, my place. I already have vodka there.”

She looks at him, confused. They’d only ever gone to her apartment. ”Why your place?”

“I was gonna do this later but here goes.” Enzo gets on one knee and holds out a small cardboard jewelry box. “Give up your crazy life, and become my wife.”

Suzy opens the box. Inside there’s an engagement ring with a very small diamond. Her eyes well up. “I—I don’t know what to say.”

“Yes. Say yes!”

Her hands are shaking as she stares at the ring. “This ... you ... I ...”

“I love you.” He takes the ring out and slips it on her finger. “We can get married tonight. I know a judge who can do it. Then you never have to go back.”

“Hank won’t let me go.”

“We won’t ask him. I’ve saved a little. We can start over somewhere new.”

“Florida?”

“Anywhere you want, baby.”

“Yes, Enzo. Yes!”

Relief washes over his face as he struggles to stand then pulls her to him and hugs her tightly. “Pack your stuff and be back here as soon as you can.”

Suzy kisses him then dashes out the door. It doesn’t take her long to get back to her apartment and even less time to pack her few possessions. She pulls the money out from under the mattress, shoving it into her bra.

She closes the door, leaving the key in the lock for the next whore. Suzy is halfway up the stairs when she hears someone step out of her neighbor’s apartment.

“Where you going bitch?” It’s Hank.

Suzy races up the stairs. Hank chases her, catching her before she reaches the door.

“Let me go!”

“You’re not going anywhere.” He punches her face several times to remind her of her place. Her lip is bleeding and her cheek is swelling.

“She’s coming with me.” Enzo is standing in the doorway holding a gun. He is calm and collected. Suzy has never seen this side before. For the first time in her twenty-two years of living, she feels like she has made a good decision.

Hank laughs and throws Suzy to the floor. “Fat man, you ain’t going to shoot me. Just walk away.”

“You’ve hurt her enough,” Enzo says as he pulls the trigger. The bullet misses and Enzo quickly fires twice more. He hits the pimp in the chest with the third shot. Hank’s body crumbles to the ground. Suzy sobs uncontrollably.

“We gotta go. Now.” Enzo puts the gun in his jacket and helps Suzy stand. He stoops down and pulls the wad of cash from Hank’s jacket, shoving it into her bag, then drags her out to the cab waiting outside. “Hoboken, NJ. Step on it.”

As the car takes off, Enzo pulls her close. “Don’t worry, you’re safe now.”

And, for the first time in years, she does feel safe. As they cross the George Washington Bridge, she whispers, “Goodbye New York, and hello future.”

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Missing Mug

"No! It can't be." Milly stared into the cupboard at the spot her favorite mug had been. Not only was it a Starbucks limited edition collector piece and worth hundreds of dollars, it was her biggest mug. After a night of no sleep and not having the energy to roll out of bed until nearly noon, she needed as much coffee as she could get before going to her office to stare at the computer screen and try to get work done.

There was a piece of paper where it had been. She snatched it up and read the typed message, "If you want to see your mug again, go to The Java Hut in Danville at 1:30 p.m. Come alone."

What the hell? Who would take her mug? What could they want? How did they get into her house? Milly stared at the message. Her sons! They must have done this.

Milly stomped up the stairs, cursing with each step. At the top, she look down the hallway. Her sons’ bedroom doors were closed.

She pounded on her eldest son’s door. No answer. Milly threw open the door. “Where did you put --”

Her son wasn’t there. His bed was made, his clothes were in the hamper and the rest of the room was tidy. That never happened. Something was wrong.

Milly sprung across the hall to her other son’s room and threw open the door without knocking. She was met with the same scene. Something was very wrong.

Milly raced around the house looking for any sign of her children or a note suggesting where they might be. There was nothing. She looked at the clock. It was already noon. There wasn’t much time for her to get to Danville.

Confused and in a rapidly growing state of panic, she headed to her bedroom. Milly pulled out the first outfit she found in her dresser, an ugly pink sweatshirt and jeans, then quickly got dressed. She didn’t bother with makeup or her unruly red curls; there wasn’t time.

It was warm for February so Milly didn’t have to worry about clearing frost from her beat-up old BMW. She got inside and put the key in the ignition then turned it. The engine rumbled but didn’t turn over.

Milly turned the key again and held it in the start position until it finally roared to life. She gave it a minute to warm up then flew out of the driveway, narrowly missing the cars parked on the side of the street.

The traffic was nearly non-existent as she sped across the Illinois landscape. Milly looked at the clock as she passed through Paris. There was an hour left and she should have plenty of time. But, to be on the safe side, Milly floored it and was soon going seventy-five miles per hour. If the cops had the nerve to pull her over, she was ready with a story and waterfall of tears.

A sigh of relief rushed past her lips as she crossed the city line into the rundown Danville and the clock showed she had ten minutes to get to the shop. She was going to make it!

Milly pulled into the parking lot and barely remembered to put the car in park as she threw open the car door and stormed towards the building. She stepped into the shop and her nose was assaulted by the smell of a dozen flavors of coffee. It was empty other than two employees, who glanced up when she came in then went back to their cleaning.

“Excuse me,” Milly said to the woman behind the counter, her breathing ragged. “I was told I would find my mug here.”

“Is that it over there?” The woman pointed to a table in the middle of the room.

Milly followed the woman’s finger and saw her mug. She bumped into the other tables as she hurried over to it. Her hands were shaking as she picked the mug up and quickly examined it for damage. There was none. Relieved, she sat down to collect herself and try to figure out where her sons could be.

A few minutes later, the woman came over to her, holding a cupcake with a sign on it.“This is for you.”

Confused, Milly took the plate from her and read the message, “Look behind you.” She spun around.

“Surprise!” a chorus of voices called out. Her sons, ex-wife, and a few friends were gathered just inside the door holding a birthday cake and presents.

Milly was speechless. They knew how she felt about surprises. All the emotions from her sons and the mug being missing and the panicked rush to Danville turned to anger. She forced herself to smile and greet everyone.

They sat down and chatted as they ate the cake then Milly opened her gifts. “Thanks everyone!” she said as her friends headed out.

When they were gone, Milly turned to her sons and ex-wife. Her eyes had a crazed look. “Whose brilliant idea was this?”

“We wanted to give you a party but we needed to be sneaky so you’d come. Mom helped with the plan,” her eldest answered. Her eyes moved to her ex-wife who was smiling, impervious to Milly’s glare.

“Be happy people cared enough to want to give you a party.”

She leaned in close then whispered, “Do anything like this again and I’ll have a new home at the County Prison.”

They laughed uncertainly. “Whatever you say.”
-----

Just over a year later, Milly stood next to her lawyer in a packed court room. The foreman read their decision, “The jury unanimously finds the defendant guilty on all charges.”

“Thank you,” the judge said then turned to Milly. “Your senseless actions leave me no choice but to give you a life sentence with no chance of parole.”

On the way out, Milly told the reporters. “Its not my fault; I told them not to surprise me again.”