Write On Press Presents: The Ultimate Collection of Original Short Fiction, Volume I, p.1Write On Press
Write On Press Presents:
Original Short Fiction
Published by Write On e-Publishing, LLC.
Copyright 2014 Write On Press
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T’ant Pis (Too Bad)
Chicken Pox Revenge
The Girl in the Library
The Cards Don’t Lie
Dog Night Dawn
Thanks be to the Booze
A Mother’s Need
Be Careful what you ask for
The Divorce Quilt
Wither the World
Chainmail & Nerds
Behind these Eyes
1. Inside the Light, Outside of Time
2. Lifetime in a Moment
3. Whisper in the Darkness
4. Darkness of Mind
5. Clasping Life
6. Drip of Moonlight
7. Generating Light
Me Zombie, You Food
Of Pirate Queens and Kika Fruit
Courage in a Coffee Cup
T’ant Pis (Too Bad)
J. J. Haile
Do you know you can’t find lye in the stores no more? You know, them white crystals people use for rat poison and such?
Well, I guess it’s the “and such” is why it’s hard to find, folks sure did them some plenty “and such” back in the day. Finally found some in an old hardware store on Magazine Street, cost me six dollars, but it’s worth it. Gonna kill me some good sized rats with it, the four legged kind. I scattered it all along the baseboards in the shed and still had some left, so I wrapped it in a plastic grocery bag and pushed it way back on a top shelf.
As I was washing my hands at the kitchen sink, my mind went back, you know how it does that sometimes? Well, I started thinking about Emma and Porterfield James. You remember them?
Oh yeah, used to live right by the Circle Food store. They moved though, got a real nice little place in Marais Street, just Emma, Porterfield and their baby girl. Oh no, she ain’t never married, been sick since she was born, some kind of thing with her heart. She never left her Mama and them and she must be near forty years old. I remember the day she was christened, right there at Corpus Christi.
The other children gave her this big party. I think folks said it was because that lil gal wasn’t supposed to live too long. She was the tail end, last button on Jacob’s coat, number seven of seven. Emma named her Debbie Ann and nursed that lil old thing until she was as fat and sassy as the rest. Stayed sick though, always going to Charity Hospital for the doctor to fix her up; she was all Emma could think of. It was alright, because the other six was nearly grown, some of them married and wasn’t nobody to tend to except Porterfield, so Emma doted on that lil Debbie Ann.
Guess she should have given a thought to her husband but they had been married so long, seems like he should have understood that Emma had to see after her child. But Porterfield wasn’t nothing but a man and pretty soon he did what some men will do, no matter how good the wife is.
Porterfield took up with another woman. Oh, she wasn’t much, red haired and loose, named Vivian, lived right at St. Bernard and Villere, almost in Emma’s back yard!
He started staying there in the evenings after he got off from the lumber yard, drinking beer and playing cards but soon enough, the evenings turned into week-ends and the week-ends into week-days. Seemed like Emma didn’t notice much, so caught up in her baby and seven o’clock mass every day, but people started talking and I guess she heard.
You know how your Mama taught you that a man’s gonna be a man and after he’s old and all played out, he’ll come in? Well, it’s a lie, straight from the pits of hell!
They’s some men gonna be dogs, no matter what!
Porterfield and Emma was married in that same Corpus Christi Church, many years ago They took the same vows, was supposed to live right, the way they promised God. They was just pretty to look at, all in love and devoted to each other and making babies quick, fast and in a hurry, you know, Catholic style?
She was a good girl, raised up right and turned into a good wife. No, it was Porterfield that was the problem. Time came when he changed, or maybe his true self came out, whatever, it had been alright for a time until Emma had that last baby.
She prayed, made novenas, like any other woman; a mother, praying for the miracle that would keep her child alive. She went to mass every day and novenas whenever she could. Oh, she cooked, cleaned and saw to Porterfield’s needs but I just know she was distracted. Once, she had been slim and pretty, with soft hair and a complexion like peaches and cream.
She stayed small, but like some fair-skinned women, she began to fade. She didn’t believe in the beauty parlor, besides she had that soft hair that didn’t need the hot comb and after a time, she would pull it all back from her face in a knot. She was attractive, in a matronly way, spoke softly and comported herself like the lady she was reared up to be; she just had the bad luck to wind up with a whoremonger who disrespected and shamed her. Maybe, if he hadn’t been so no good, so doggish, things would have turned out better.
They had it made, for the times in which they lived. They had fine children, a nice house, even if they rented it, and nothing to do except enjoy their golden years and wait for heaven. Emma was a good woman, I believe she did all she would do, and IF she was not the complete wife she was supposed to be, well, he should have understood. But hardly much works out the way you’d expect it, so because we’re just human, we stray and we sin.
That lil Debbie Ann was about twenty-two or three when her kidneys failed; seems like a bad heart would have been enough.
Emma was really busy now; the kidney machine with her daughter three times a week, the other clinic appointments, daily mass and all those novenas she made. She even went over by the St. Ann shrine on Ursulines and climbed them steps! Yes she did! Did it I don’t know how many times, praying for more time with her child, doing what mothers do. The oldest boy, P.J., used to drive them where they had to go because Porterfield couldn’t be bothered. It got so Emma would have her son turn the Villere Street corner and call out to Porterfield on that woman’s porch that they were taking Debbie Ann to the hospital.
Did he care? Well I can’t say, but it didn’t seem like he did. Did Emma hold it against him? Again, I can’t say, all I can do is remember how it all came to an end.
There came an evening that Debbie Ann got the short-windedness, and was turning blue and hardly able to talk. Emma’s boy come by, loaded them up in his car and made the Villere Street turn. Emma called out the window to Porterfield, who was playing Koch in his undershirt on the porch, hollered out that D
No sir, folks said he flapped his hand at Emma and them and never missed a card.
They kept Debbie Ann over to the Charity, she was on the dangerously ill list for two weeks and you know Emma never left the bedside. Finally, the doctor said Debbie Ann could go home and Emma packed up and brought her child home. She got her baby settled and walked to Corpus Christi and asked for the priest. Folks say she made her confession, other say she just had to talk to somebody, but whatever she did, she was gone for a few hours. Later that day, Porterfield showed up, I suppose they talked and maybe he visited with his daughter, but he was gone by dark. In the morning, Emma got up, went to mass and came home. She took care of Debbie Ann, cleaned up her house and then walked the few blocks to Vivian’s house. She talked with her husband for a few minutes and went back home. He followed a few minutes later and that’s where things get fuzzy.
Folks say they argued and maybe a blow or two was passed, but they settled down and Emma made breakfast for her husband. How much he ate, no one knows because the skillet and the pot were still on the stove when the police arrived.
They came because Emma called them. Debbie Ann was crying in her room, Porterfield was screaming on the sofa and Emma was sweeping the kitchen floor. The pot on the stove was still warm and the crystals of lye were still visible in the steaming grits. Porterfield screamed that she had tried to kill him, as he tried in vain to wipe the stiffening grits from his face. It had gotten into his eyes and no amount of water could dilute the lye as it ate into the sensitive eye tissue.
Porterfield went to the emergency room at Charity, P.J. stayed at home with Debbie Ann and Emma took her first and only ride in a police car.
No one knows for sure what transpired at Tulane and Broad but later that evening, Emma came home. Porterfield stayed a week in the hospital and P.J. brought him home, his eyes covered in gauze.
No visitors came, no messages went out and no one asked Emma what happened. She got up the next morning, went to mass, sent Debbie Ann to the kidney place with P.J. and fed Porterfield his breakfast. If anything changed in the marriage, no one knew for sure; Vivian stayed around the corner at her house and Porterfield didn’t visit her anymore, that much was obvious. There weren’t any changes anybody could see in Emma, she stayed just as she always had, and took care of her house, her child and her husband. They moved into the house they’re in now when Porterfield got his retirement from the lumberyard. Debbie Ann continued as she always did, although now one of her other siblings take care of ferrying her back and forth to her clinics.
Emma gets up every morning, goes to mass and comes home. When the weather is nice, they can be seen on the front porch, Porterfield in his dark glasses, Emma reading a religious tract. No one actually knows how things came to such a pass, although most women would say that Porterfield got what he deserved. Not only did he renege on his wedding vows, he disrespected his wife and disregarded his child. Apparently, Emma took as much as she could and enough just got to be too much.
What she did is done, the law allowed her her freedom and we can only hope God will allow her salvation. What I DO know for sure is that you can’t hardly find lye in the stores no more.
When I saw my client standing on the balcony of his condo, gesturing at the side door he'd left ajar for me, I knew I was going to like him. Something about the way he held himself and his cigarette. Maybe he reminded me of somebody, or maybe sometimes you can recognize a kindred spirit.
I’d found his topless maid ad a few days ago, looking for a way to rustle up some quick cash since the strip club where I work is dead during the summer. Before stripping, I’d tried for a “real” job, but half-completed journalism degrees are pretty worthless. They’re less than worthless actually, because I have student loans to worry about.
I’d responded to his ad in an email with the subject line: “Topless maid for you: fastidious, busty.”
He immediately fired back, “You're hired!”
Didn't even ask to see a photograph, and now here he was letting me into his condo (corporate housing with wall-to-wall carpet and a wet-bar, it felt only slightly more lived-in than a hotel) without so much as a cursory background check. He introduced himself, with some hesitation, as Aalim, while two cats regarded me suspiciously.
“That cat's my fiancée’s.”
He pointed at the fluffy white one, “It's not very friendly.”
I asked him how many responses his ad had garnered. He eyeballed my cleaning supplies and the get-up I had chosen: fishnets, booty shorts, and my “low” six-inch, clear Lucite heels. “One.”
“But you didn't even ask for a photo. What if I’d been a dude or something?”
He shrugged, “I figured I'd at least get my house cleaned.”
I started scrubbing the first bathroom while I tried to feel Aalim out, see what he thought he was purchasing with his two hours of naked girl time. In the strip club, this delicate probing process is filled with tiny hits-and-misses as I figure out what the man wants me to be and calibrate myself accordingly.
Most guys want the typical bubbly, horny, stripper cheerleader: Oh, I love being naked! I'm naughty, etc! But there’s a certain kind of seasoned veteran who's not taken in by that and finds it a huge turn-off. These guys have been strip-club regulars since I was in braces. They’ve spent countless hours and thousands of dollars in the clubs, and because of that, they're almost as good at sniffing out bullshit as strippers are. It's almost like they want a genuine human connection; which isn't as benevolent as it sounds. It's intrusive, the work they do on your psyche. They want to penetrate to the psychological truth of the strippers and peel away the artifices we wear like exoskeletons. They are disarmingly good and often scarily intuitive.
Aalim turned out to be this kind of customer. He guessed correctly which drugs I'd favored, even which drugs my dad preferred. He told me I was circling around my goals and advised me to go back to college. He could tell all these things, he said, because he was some kind of consultant.
“People are all the same,” he said. “It's the same patterns. It gets boring.”
He also told me I needed to read Rainer Maria Rilke.
“Letters to a Young Poet,” he said. “You'd like it. It would be a good book for you right now.”
We talked about strip clubs. He filled me in on some details about Visions, where I’d started as a cocktail waitress my freshman year. I didn’t stay a waitress for long, though. Dancers made so much more money.
“I used to go there a lot,” he said, “back in the ’90s. There was a lot of sex going on there. A lot of sex. They'd have private parties - invite only - at hotels, and these were anything goes. I didn't have a girlfriend, so I thought, why not?”
I told him I’d never heard about the parties.
“You didn't work there long enough,” he said flatly.
“All men cheat. All men. My best friend is a great husband. Takes care of his wife emotionally, financially. If she wants a glass of water, he gets it for her. Every time she goes out of town, he calls an escort. Is that cheating?”
“But if she doesn't know about it?”
“It's still cheating,” I said firmly, convinced.
“What about this?” He gestured at the bland kitchen table, the ashtray full of my lipsticked cigarette butts.
“This isn't cheating. We're not doing anything. I'm just cleaning.”
“I guarantee you my fiancée would think this is cheating.”
He lit another cigarette, and then handed it to me.
“You know, you're a Stepford wife in disguise. You want a vanilla life. The good job, happy marriage, smart kids.”
“I totally do, on one level. But it would be boring.”
“Let me tell you so
“This life is boring.”
He told me about his parents, good Muslims married 40 years. They go to the temple together. They pamper their grandchildren. On weekends, they eat dinner with friends.
“They're happy,” he said, “Happiness isn't boring.”
“I like the sound of that, I really do. But I don't want the things that are the right things. How do you make yourself want them?”
“I haven't been able to figure that out. I want to be a good Muslim. My life would be easier if I were. But I'm not.”
That was the core of it: Neither one of us could figure out how you make yourself want the things your parents want for you. A healthy life. A stable life. A loving spouse who brings positive changes.
My phone rang; it was a friend checking up on me. I’d been talking to Aalim for a half-hour past my scheduled departure time.
“I just have one favor to ask,” he said as I gathered my cleaning supplies.
“Can I look at you while I jerk off?”
“I’ve got to go.” I made a show of looking at my phone’s clock again.
“It’s really late.”
“I won't take long.”
He started throwing cash on the table; $100, $120, $140, $160.
“Just name your price.”
I can't say I wasn't tempted by the money. Guys had masturbated before, in the strip club’s champagne rooms, but I always felt weird about it afterwards. And talking about my life and goals with Aalim, I felt weird about it beforehand. Which was a change.
“I can’t,” I said finally.
“Why not? It would be a really nice way to end the evening.”
“For a while, I've used my sexuality as a way to get things. But lately, in the club, that hasn‘t been working. So I’m shifting toward a new hustle, one where I use sexuality to be close to people and my talents to get things.”
“Talents? What kind of talents?” he asked, and to my surprise, I couldn’t detect a whiff of prurience.
Write On Press Presents: The Ultimate Collection of Original Short Fiction, Volume I by Write On Press / History & Fiction have rating 4.8 out of 5 / Based on19 votes
Write On Press Presents: The Ultimate Collection of Original Short Fiction, Volume I by Write On Press / History & Fiction have rating 2.8 out of 5 / Based on17 votes