Friday, August 26, 2016
The cramps were back. A small scream came when the van hit the raised sewer; blue-white knuckles gripped the big pizza pan wheel. Jesus, riding this old horse always made them worse. Rubber bands twisting and tightening across her hips. Every month they got worse, like that bastard, Charlie Cramps.
Charles Stanley Wigginton IV, better known as Cramps, was the lizard prince of some hoity-toity north side family of shysters. But he became the King of the Silver Dollar instead, sitting all day on his barstool throne. Messy and painful 24/7, even the regulars hated Cramps. Holding court with his highball glass scepter, he delighted in barking orders and chasing ass. It didn’t matter who the ass belonged to, if it was in the house, it was fair game. One night, a girl shoved a tampon in his mouth, but it didn’t help. The sound kept leaking out and so did the help.
The bar, 14th Gate, was, in his mind, the greatest concept ever. It wasn’t. With Fake antiques and faux signs, it came straight from meat market factory. But it did have a regular clientele with money, so the bills stayed paid. At least it did until tonight.
Cramps decided he wanted a mommy to cuddle, namely her. Oh, no. She’d fuck a corpse first and told him that in no uncertain terms. Oh the firing threat was made, but she didn’t give a damn. She had standards and they were much higher than that fucking prick.
The tit grab was the last straw. Catching down between his legs, the back flip was epic. Cramp’s carefully coiffed blond head sailed over the bar. The spread legs caught the back rail with a loud crack and scream. Hopping on the bar, she bowed to the applauding crowd. It was a better show than anything on the flat screens. She didn’t stick around for an encore or even the official dismissal, though. Taking a bottle of Smirnoff of the shelf with a rebel yell, she walked out the door.
The old stained towel fought the fogged windshield. Road markings disappeared from the dimming headlights. She took another pull of the bottle, too many thoughts. With a frown, she felt her pockets. Damn it, she smoked the last joint before the shift. Guess that will have to wait until tomorrow. A hazy glance at the bottle took her aback. Huh? Half gone and she didn’t seem drunk, just tired. All she wanted was to get home, go to sleep, and forget the day had ever occurred. The rain began to pick up.
The bus itself was like her, a rolling anachronism, rusted flowers echoing an earlier time. But it was paid for and it ran, usually. It had been her ride since the late 1970’s, coming from her first client. Every now and then there would be an offer to buy and she would always refuse. In her mind, it would go to the junkyard with the same respect as she showed her private clients.
Private clients…she laughed at the thought. It sounded like an escort service. It sort of was. Kari Summers was a Death Angel. The label irritated her, but it wasn’t wrong. The gift had first shown itself at the Commune long ago. Sister Elyse had reached the threshold with her cancer, but could not let go. Elyse saw the angel in her and knew she could be trusted with her transition.
Prophet sought Kari out and brought her to the room. Elyse placed her hand against her heart and that was it. Everything began to slow as whatever demon in the way decided to let go. Last breaths fell in time with the chants. In the resulting silence, the Prophet divined her gift was needed in the greater world. Many would benefit and it would be selfish for her to stay. She left with the bus and his blessing.
Sometimes she wondered if she was kicked out because they thought she would transition them against their will. It was a silly, of course, but somewhat understandable. People didn’t move to the next plane for a lot of reasons. But if it wasn’t time, it wouldn’t happen. That simple. All she did was clear the pathway. She specialized in those that were alone, either by choice or chance. There was no pay, unless you count spiritual satisfaction. Mama had been the worst, bless her heart. It took days of cajoling to convince her there was nothing to be afraid of.
Would she face her own transition with bravery or fear? You never know until you get there.
Chugging and smoking, the bus toddled down the empty street. A bang was followed by shuddering. Her blood pressure rose as she muscled the old beast into the parking lot.
“Crap, what is it this time?”
Slipping on a leaf, the fall on her butt was much less graceful than Charlie’s. Rain was soaking her silver hair as the she became more alert. She slowly made her way to the back and saw the empty spot in the engine bay. Another fan belt bit the dust.
“Aw, Shit.” She screamed “its three fucking AM.”
The orange lights caught her eye.
A port in the storm and damn right it will be taken advantage of. The coffee here was always hot and fresh. The clientele was mostly hookers and pimps. But who cares? She could warm up and bum the phone if Jackie or Annette was working. And offer for a date would get the same treatment as Charlie, tonight. She fucking wasn’t in the mood.
The entrance was cater-cornered to the street. The side glass had been heavily tinted some years ago, leaving only a narrow door as a peep hole. Kari gazed through the warped glass to see if there was anyone too weird. One girl sat at the end of the counter with her back to the door. The top of a bleached beehive poked from the top of the coffee machine. Jackie. Good. This plan is at least half way working. If nothing else, she’ll have someone to bitch with. God, what did she look like? She tugged at the hem of her dress in a half hearted attempt to look presentable.
The beehive tilted around at the squeak of the door, raccoon eyes smiling in recognition. With a silent wave, Jackie put the dog-eared gossip rag aside and started a fresh pot of coffee.
The girl at the end didn’t move at all. A gaggle of mismatched piercings dangled from a scarred face. Pink and green dye dripped from the bad shag cut on to the ripped denim jacket. The torn, dishwater gray camisole peeked out from the lapels. A short red leather skirt over ripped rainbow leggings completed the ensemble. A statue of life’s failure and a good person to share misery with. Kari plopped noisily next to her.
The statue didn’t move. Brushing the wet strands away from her face, she tried again.
“I said it was a bad fucking night.” The voice was rising.
Jackie looked up from her tabloid, wondering what was coming next.
“I got fired from my job for slapping my boss upside his sorry head. My roommate moved out two days ago. My fucking bus broke its fucking fan belt for like the fifth time this week. I don’t have a spare. It’s three in the fucking morning and it’s raining. And I’m out of tampons and I’m cramping like crap.” There was a pause for effect. “Might as well take a cab home.”
The last statement seemed to pierce the veil. With a sigh, the blond head tipped upward with a sad smile.
“An old pair of pantyhose will work for the fan belt. I had to do that once in Miami.” Holding out her hand. “Sorry to be rude. I’m Randi.”
Without malice, Kari shook it. “Kari. You alone? ”
“Yeah. I’ve only been here a couple of days. It’s hard when you don’t know anyone. Anyway, I was lucky I had a pair when it happened. The fan belt, I mean. Anyway, I hate those things and usually go commando.” A wicked grin crossed the pale face. “Right now, I’m just killing time until work.”
The coffee cups appeared. Jackie asked if they wanted anything to eat. They looked at each other, shook their heads and giggled. A connection had been made. The waitress retreated back to her hiding place.
Kari rummaged in her purse and found some quarters. The jukebox came to life, filling the diner with stories of bad relationships and hard drinking. The mean night melted away with lip-synching and air guitar. They talked, bitching about jobs, men and life. It was like they had known each other forever. Randi grabbed a couple balloons from a chair and gave one to Kari. Drunken laughter rose from them both. Jackie sat at behind the counter watching the misfits. They weren’t too loud, so she just let them go on. It was better than the desperate silence. On impulse Randi gave a balloon to her with a laugh.
Finally, Kari asked Randi if she had a place to stay for the night.
“Is that an offer or a come on?” The tiny blonde’s face was wary.
Kari laughed as they left the warmth of the diner.
“Whichever you like.”
It was still raining as they crossed the parking lot over to the bus.
On impulse Kari tapped Randi on the shoulder and yelled “Tag! You’re it!” They became children of the night, chasing each other through puddles, dipping behind poles and cars. As they approached the camper, Kari didn’t see the oil. Slipping, she fell into Randi’s arms. Without thinking, her hand landed on the crotch. It wasn’t the smooth and sleek expected. Time stopped and Kari stared in shock.
“Things are not as they seem, are they?”
Randi flushed and said no. There was more to say, but it wouldn’t come out. The stories of loneliness and pain, the beatings and scars, all stayed safe within him. Silence mixed with the rain rinsed away all illusions. He was just another damaged queen on the Ponce strip.
Kari smiled broke the silence.
“Hey, I came in tonight looking for a friend. I don’t care what it looks like, I still have one. Come in and get warm.”
Climbing in the camper, Kari’s hand found the lantern on the door and flipped it on. Randi stood passively, not sure of his position. Kari pointed to a towel draped haphazardly on the side bench. Grabbing it, he attempted to dry his faded hair.
“Why are you being so nice to me?”
“Why not?” She pulled the pewter locks back in a scrunci. “Just because I had a crap day doesn’t mean I have to take it out on you.”
Kari plugged her phone into the radio. Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon filled the cramped space. Her flowered dress rustling with the rhythm, the silky voice always was an invitation to dance. Randi became uncomfortable and shift sat down on the bench.
“Were you serious about being on your last tampon?”
“Nah.” She said with a laugh. “I just said it to get your attention. So you don’t have to worry about having to find a store open, unless it was a liquor store.” Smiling, she tried to gauge his reaction.
“I don’t do red wings and I don’t think you do either. All I want to do is relax.”
A small brass pipe and a small baggie came out of his jacket pocket. Quietly, he loaded it up, lit it and took a long toke.
He felt warmth he hadn’t had in a while. Kari was an interesting chick, if that was your style. But it wasn’t his. He’d hustling men forever. A quick suck for money and weed, that was all. No fuss and no whining over what color the condom needed to be or whether they should be held afterwards. Cold? Yeah, but he didn’t like relationships, too much baggage and pain.
He thought of Ms. Marty. She had wanted a little girl, but Social Services sent him instead. So, she made him her little girl. Summertime Fun was what Ms. Marty called it. She would make huge fuss while he modeled stuff. There was always something wrong, which brought out the belt. Marty took special joy in lifting skirts and watching her little Sissy squirm.
She would let him use it on her, saying she had been such a bad girl. He smiled slightly at the memory. It was the only safe place to vent anger. The slapping sound as it made contact on her fat body and her coos and moans, the rub down with some stinky oil afterward. Each session was followed by ice cream. It was all about buying acceptance by following the rules there and he still used what he learned to survive. Adapt to what the people want and the petite little blond on the corner serving up blow jobs was it. McSex. Filling, but not satisfying.
The Phone began to play a trance piece. The toke felt like the last one on Earth. Nodding involuntarily to the beat, he began to cough and offered up the pipe.
“Want a hit?”
With a small kiss on his hairline, Kari took the communion.
“Not much. Just how good it is to be dry and warm. Thank you. It isn’t often I get treated like a human. Most people ignore me or pick fights.”
Kari smiled sadly. “I have to admit, I must have been pretty drunk not to realize. But you are the prettiest queen I have ever seen. And you don’t act like most of them, with all the drama. I felt like I was talking to a sister. ”
The pipe went out and she set it on the table.
“I was taught pretty well.” Randi winced and fell silent. His breathing became ragged and the sobs came. “I… I mean…”
She took him in her arms and rocked slowly. Crooning a soft lullaby, the exhausted man child settled in to a deep sleep. Laying him out on the bench, she slid her hands under the skirt and with a tug, the wet hose was off. Ew, how long had he been wearing these? Kari felt bad, but she had to get home. Anyway he was the one that had said something about going commando. She threw them across the front seat and looked back at the sleeping form.
An almost hairless tummy peeked from under the skirt and his thing had all but disappeared. A grin spread over her face. Little boys were the best. They made you happy and that was enough. Blotting him dry like a baby, she tucked him in. Maybe he’ll still be here in a couple of days. Opening the cabinet underneath bench, she found the tool bag.
Grabbing the nasty stockings, she went outside to fix the engine.
Running through thick woods, branches and rocks scattered like trap, reaching up to grab and scratch his body. Footsteps behind him. Hurry up. The fetid smell of rotted leaves and bodies ran up his nose as he jumped a large log. The path cut sharply to the right here and broke into a large pasture. There was a thump and he heard the cursing of his stepfather as he hit the log.
Across the field was the old farmhouse. As he started towards it he wondered if there would be anyone there to help. A herd of cattle with a large bull standing guard were on his right. The bull just stared. Guess I’m not a threat. As he approached the house, the shotgun racked up. He hits the steps….
“Randi! Honey, are you alright?” Kari shook him. “Wake up. You were yelling so loud I could hear you over the engine. Anyway, we are at my house. Let’s get cleaned up.”
Disoriented, Randi slapped out at the Geisha face. Taking his cold, shaking hand, she kissed it and wrapped hers tightly around him. The heat from the body was familiar. It was another strung out dude coming down ready to sleep it off. The bear hug worked. Slowly, he came to. Then she helped him on to the cracked driveway.
Thegrey and white house was a forlorn structure, paint chips littering the driveway. The porch looked like it covered the gate of hell. Tuning his head, Randi saw the abandoned rail yard at the end of the street and wished he do the hobo thing. But he was too weak to even considered escaping. A small black boy stared as the two lost souls staggered through the door.
The living room was mess. The Ashtrays were unused, but the cigarette smell was everywhere. A pack of Camels and a small Bible sat next to an easy chair, with a sofa sitting sideways along the wall. Strange.She wasn’t smoking last night. No plants or indications of animals. The house had an air of quiet desperation.
“Sit down, Sweetheart.” Kari said “And I’ll make some tea.”
Stepping over to the sofa, a framed poster of a skull caught his eye. “Those who live, live off the dead.” It startled and disturbed him. He wasn’t where he should be or wanted to be. Can’t he just spend his time in peace? He was part of the dead and he resented this bitch’s attempt to live off of him. His chest began to tighten ant the coughing started.
Steaming cups materialized. Smiling, the Geisha handed him one.
“Sorry about the mess. I really haven’t cleaned this place since Mom died.” She paused. “She used to sit in that chair smoking and reading Bible and rail at all the sin in the world. It seemed to bring her comfort. But she couldn’t see the burning stick in her hand was just as bad. I never did see the use for it. All I knew how to do was party."
The phone landed in the dock on the side table. Harry Chapin’s scratchy voice began talking about a better place to be. A slow smile came across her face. She looked up at Randi and it disappeared.
“You don’t look good.” Touching his head. “Lord. You’re feverish. Wait here”
She came back with a towel, blanket and a couple of aspirin.
“It’s all I have right now. Let’s get you out of those wet things.”
Stripping off the stiff blouse and skirt, he melted on the couch. Pale naked skin glowed, ribs showing through the skin. Lovingly, she dried him and wrapped the blanket around him. He reminded Kari of an injured bird she had found when she was little. She had cried when it died in her hands.
The work sobered her. A question came to her mind, one she already knew the answer to.
“Are you positive?”
The cup shook in his hand. He nodded slowly and the tears began to flow. The beast had been named.. He had sinned against the world and this was the punishment. He began to cough. The revolting Geisha face began to waver and the room spun.
Kari helped him drink the warm liquid and wrapped her arms around him.
“It’s alright, Baby. I am, too.”
Randi’s body convulsed. He was more confused than ever.
“You’re safe. If it is your time, I’ll help you there. No one should go alone.” She began to sing to him softly.
Randi kept shaking. A hole appeared in the floor and he could see the farmhouse again. He saw the belt in his Stepfather’s hand and the hole in his chest where Randi had ducked the shotgun. He relaxed a little. The end was in sight. Geisha’s soothing contralto lullaby was like water and he was floating on it. He turned to see her smiling face, thankful she was there.
A light came from under the front of the house. Better and brighter than any he had ever seen. But the bloody corpse was there. He had to get past it to go in. The Geisha’s lips came against his own. The most loving kiss he had ever known. As she loosened her grip, the wings unfolded and angels took him to the other side.
Bittersweet tears came as the body entered repose. It was always painful, especially if the end was not their own. A brief chant for the healing of souls, she placed the call. Another cramp went through her as she set the phone down.