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.”


“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.”

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