For the last fifteen or so years I've been living with a bunch of dead guys at a motel in West Texas. Like the characters in my stories, I'd really like to move on, see the world, go places. But I'm just like them. Anchored by love, worn down by circumstances and fascinated by how much there really is underneath it all. So I keep writing their stories and tell myself that someday, when I've got this all out of my system, I'll write deep, meaningful literature about... something else. In the meantime, this is a place for the short attention spanned. I'm making a commitment to keep it small here. Flash fiction and scenes from the life inspired by, The Bella Vista Motel.
Ruby sat up straight, leaning forward slightly in her seat on the bus, trying not to sweat. The heat of the coming day had let itself be known right away and she did not want to ruin her dress with perspiration stains. Nice dresses didn’t come from nowhere, she had to save up long and treat them like royalty. She’d paid dearly for the turquoise-colored sundress that until then had never seen the sun.
She would take it off and put it in Lux to soak as soon as she got home. Then she would take a bath. Her nerves were shot, but a long cool bath would set her straight. What had that poor, dead girl in the alley been planning on doing when she got home? Maybe soak her feet? Waitressing was hard on the feet…
She felt shaky and stripped of the top layer of her skin as the bus lumbered along. You know you’re a ghoul when an hour or so of morning sunlight makes you feel like you’ve had a day at the beach, she thought. She tried to remember the last time she’d been out at this time of the morning and came up blank. The bus was so goddamn slow with all the cars on the road. Daytime had far too many people in it. She sighed. It was going to take her twice as long to get home.
The bus pulled up to a stop and the exchange of bodies took place. She couldn’t help noticing that a different sort of crowd rode uptown later in the morning. Not the domestics and laborers she was accustomed to seeing. So many young, or recently young people, scrubbed and stiff. All of them were white, the back of the bus was empty. Where were they all headed? Office desks uptown, surely. But what did they do all day?
She glanced over at a very young man with smooth shiny cheeks and oiled brown hair so neatly combed you could see the tracks left by the comb’s teeth. He felt her eyes, looked up at her and stared briefly, then turned away quickly and she watched his ears go red.
She tried to picture him working; the desk, the papers… the what? She couldn’t finish the image. Instead her mind automatically started to assess his sexual tastes. What was his button? Panties, she guessed. He was so young; she bet he still peeked at his sisters… He was straining his peripheral vision to see her while he pretended to stare just off center.
She could see his pulse beating in the side of his neck. She stared at the spot. The girl in the alley, her throat was cut there, right there…
His skin bulged with each beat until a lump the size of a marble strained, then split open. Blood gushed out over his shoulder. He lost his battle with himself and glanced back at her, smiling shyly while his immaculate white collar turned scarlet and his shiny cheeks drained of color.
She grabbed hold of the seat ahead of her and put her head down, squeezed her eyes shut, and breathed slow and deep. Her heart was racing and her fingers quickly went numb. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine, she breathed in and out, I’m fine…
After a moment she opened her eyes and forced herself to look at the boy. He had turned away and was looking out of the window, his smooth young neck unmarred. She stared down at her lap for a few minutes, smoothing and re-smoothing the fabric of her dress, letting the color soak into her eyes. Color always helped… turquoise and all the shades of sky and water. She could live without so much, but not color, that was a life or death need.
When she finally felt calm again, she glanced around at the women, like a flock of sparrows scattered throughout the bus, and was struck by their dull tones, plain unadorned features, not a one of them making the most of her looks. A woman a couple of rows back had nice bone structure and the kind of eyes that probably would have opened up and sparkled with the tiniest touch of make up, or even a bit of color in a scarf. What was she wearing? Mushroom beige? Could you even consider that a color?
She, too, caught Ruby looking at her, but instead of embarrassment, the woman gave her a glare of disapproval and a deliberate turn of the head.
She was used to that look – that "how dare you call so much attention to yourself" look. It had nothing to do with morality. Ruby didn’t look like a straight-up whore on or off the streets. Or at least she didn’t think she did. She tried not to; that’s why she bought nice dresses and good quality accessories. She wore make up, but didn’t showgirl it. She showed off her figure, but didn’t flash too much bare skin. No, it was something else.
It seemed to her that it was her color that other women resented, the red hair, the bright white skin, the blue eyes. People couldn’t help but look at her. They could look away, but she left afterimages in their eyes. Ruby drew attention. She always had. She was so used to being looked at that she had to try to imagine what it would be like not to be noticed. Like not really being out in the world? Like being a ghost, she thought. Like being untouchable. Safely out of reach.
Was that it? Were they trying to be like those little brown sparrows that hop around under bushes, darting out now and then to peck up a crumb? Don’t see me, nothing here for you. Don’t hurt me, I’m small and quiet, I’m not trying to draw any attention. Protect me; I’m good and pure. She saw a cat in her mind spring out of nowhere and swipe at a sparrow before it could fly away. With one quick motion the bird was in the cat’s mouth, little bird bones crunching, feathered wings lost of flight in pitiless jaw, shiny eyes, cheep, cheep…
She burst into tears. People stared; uncomfortable glances passed between a few, but all quickly ignored her as she struggled to stop crying. She pawed desperately through her purse for a hankie, her head bent down and to the side, the tears dropping straight out of her eyes onto the floor. If you’d have shed a tear… the detective had said. She found the hankie and covered her face, trying to hide behind twelve square inches of linen. I’d have offered comfort to you, if you had shed a tear…
Romeo set Geo up in a room with a cold beer and plenty of clean towels then went out to check on the kid. Geo had told him a couple of stories about Slappy's behavior on the drive out that had him wondering if he wasn't in bad with the Boss after all. Why would he send out such a little bastard?
He thought back to what the Boss had said – "He'll need a lot of training, but he's one of ours, absolutely devoted. I think you'd be a great role model for him, Romeo."
And more worrying still: "Really, he's a wonderful boy, he's just been through a lot and he's, well... I guess you could say sort of special."
He glanced around the courtyard, saw that it was empty, then noticed the dogs standing by Geo's car in the driveway looking in the open driver's side door. He walked over to the car and looked in, too. Slappy was half upside-down under the steering wheel, fiddling with the wires in the fusebox.
"What do you think you're doing?" he asked.
The kid jumped slightly, but kept at it and didn't look up at him. "I'm getting the hell out of here," he said.
"Oh, I get it," Romeo said peering in at his fingers, "you think you're hot-wiring the car..."
"You're gonna be laughing outta the other side of your face when the engine starts to roar," he mumbled, grunting slightly as he tugged on a wire.
"Well, if you continue fiddling with those wires like that, the only thing you're going to accomplish is making sure Geo can't use his blinkers to signal politely."
Slappy scowled at his hands and shrugged. "I'll figure it out, I figure everything out eventually, so scram and leave me alone."
Romeo stood there, wondering what to do. He could drag the kid out and beat him, but he had a feeling that wasn't what the Boss had in mind when he said training. He sighed a little inward sigh. Fuck, it was another test. Losing his temper with this one would just feed his fire. He thought about his brother Angelo's slow, patient smile and silently prayed for his help. He had to figure this weird kid out and turn him into a useful worker. But first he had to get him stop messing with Geo's car and decide to stay. He knew one thing for certain, he wouldn't be able to make him stay against his will. The dogs wandered off to lay down in the shade.
"Hey, kid," Romeo said.
Slappy paused and glared up at him. "Quit calling me 'kid!' It's ridiculous for a guy who's only a couple of years older'n me to call me 'kid!'"
"Hey, Slappy," Romeo said, "you want me to show you how to hot-wire this car?"
Slappy rolled his eyes, "Don't yank my chain, you're not gonna show me shit..."
Romeo shrugged. "Sure I'll show you. Its my job to show you, that's why the Boss sent you out here, to learn how to do useful things. Move over."
As Romeo moved in, Slappy begrudgingly squirmed out of the way. He sat up on the seat and crossed his arms.
"Ah, Jesus, you undid the brake lights," Romeo muttered, putting the wires back in order. "The Boss told me that he thought you could be trusted more than any ki... guy... he knows. He wants us to work together on something important to him." He glanced up, Slappy was staring off stubbornly through the windshield.
"He didn't tell me he was sending you out here against your will."
Slappy tried to pull his legs up, but his hurt knee made him suck air, "Ow, fuckin' hell! You didn't have to crush my kneecap, you know. What the hell am I gonna do now with a bum leg?"
"Should have thought of that before you pulled a knife on me. Come over here and look." Romeo took out Slappy's knife and beckoned for him to move closer. "You can't just mess up the wires, you also need a screwdriver, or in a pinch, a knife. It goes like this, watch," he said and made the engine turn over.
He sat up in the seat, closed the knife and held it out. "Here. You ever pull that thing on someone again, you better go ahead and use it or you're going find out how easy it is to die."
Slappy just looked at him with his brows furrowed and a look in his eyes that Romeo couldn't quite figure. "Take it back; it's yours isn't it? I bet the Boss gave it to you, didn't he?" He turned it over, admiring it. "He's got good taste. You want to see something he gave me?"
He tossed the knife in Slappy's lap and dug into his pocket. Slappy closed his hand around the knife and held it tight, watching Romeo with that same odd expression, a mixture of distrust and hopefulness. Romeo held up his watch and smiled. "This is the most beautiful thing I've ever owned." He held up the watch and opened its face. "This side is a pocket watch, gorgeous and very useful. But then you turn it over and the other side is a compass." He opened the compass and turned it back and forth so the kid could see it.
Slappy was impressed and reached out for it.
"Sorry, I don't let anybody touch it," Romeo said, pulling it back gently.
"I let you touch my knife," Slappy said.
Romeo raised an eyebrow and stared down his nose at him. Slappy shrugged and looked away, but couldn't keep from looking back to the gleaming bauble.
"I promise I'll never try to kill you with my watch," Romeo said drily as he closed it up and put it back in his pocket. He put the car in gear, closed the door, drove around and parked in front of Geo's room.
"The Boss just sent me out here to get rid of me," Slappy said suddenly, the hurt in his voice plain to hear.
Romeo nodded. "I could see why you'd think that, but I don't believe it's true. Just for the record, I wasn't too pleased to get here myself."
He shut off the car and opened the door, then paused to pull a key out of his pocket, setting it on the front seat between them. "Here, you got room number one, right over there." He pointed. "It's too goddamned hot in the middle of the day to do anything. Usually I go for a dip in the pool, then take a nap. There's cold drinks and food in the kitchen." He pointed to the lobby. "You do what you want."
He got out of the car and walked away.
Slappy sat there in the hot car holding his knife for a long time before he finally slipped it into his pocket, picked up his room key and got out. He looked around at the motel as he limped over to his room; the place looked small and boring. His knee hurt, but it wasn't so bad.
"I'd have to be out of my mind to stay in a dump like this," he mumbled to himself as he opened the door and went in.
This is my first Spoken Sunday post. I wrote this story up fresh for the occasion. Sensitive listeners be warned, this is a horror piece.
A mysterious young woman hitch hikes across the country, carrying an ominous suitcase...
Romeo had just laid down for an afternoon nap when the dogs went nuts out front. Geo Caletti had called that morning. It had to be him and the kid. Romeo was almost giddy with anticipation for company. He got up, smoothed down the back of his hair and headed out front.
The dogs had the car surrounded, barking and growling like mad. Romeo recognized Geo at the wheel and they both smiled and waved. Geo cracked the window and shouted out, "Hey, you didn't have to sic the dogs on me, I'm a friend a yours, remember?"
Romeo grinned. He gave an earsplitting two-fingered whistle. The dogs ran behind him and sat down, thumping their tails. He glanced in through the dusty, bug-spattered windows at the kid sitting in the passenger seat, smiled at him too and waved, "Come on out, kid, I won't let 'em bite you." The kid scowled at him.
Romeo tried to get a better look, but before he saw more than a dark mess of hair and resentful eyes, Geo got out of the car and squeezed him in a violent bear hug. Geo was a big fella. "Here's the pretty boy livin' it up out at the luxury resort!" he boomed in Romeo's face.
As soon as Geo released him, Romeo burst into laughter. "Oh yeah, you got that right," he waved a hand expansively at the modest motel behind him. He clapped Geo on the back. "Good to see you Geo, how's the city?"
"I never knew how good until now, brother, I'll tell you that much. The people we've seen and the places we've been on the way out here." He shook his head and made a throwing gesture. "Affanculo," he said with disgust.
The car door slammed. The kid walked around the front of the car, glanced at the motel with a dismissive expression and glared at Romeo. He was 16, but looked younger, skinny, with gangly limbs. His face was a combination of Italian features that added up to all of the drama and none of the beauty. He crossed his arms and stuck his hip out. The stance was pure teenage petulance.
Geo grinned. "Romeo, let me introduce you to your new apprentice, this is –"
The kid cut him off, "I can introduce myself, my name is Salvatore Allamonte, I go by Slappy."
"Slappy, huh? That's not the greatest AKA, kid," Romeo said with a small chuckle.
"Oh? That's your opinion," he said coldly. "Could be I oughta go by somethin' real dignified, like... Romeo," he sneered.
Romeo glanced at Geo, who stood with his arms crossed, nodding with an odd little smirk on his face.
"Lemme just learn you somethin' straight here," Slappy said, pointing a finger at Romeo. "I'm not impressed by a guy with some pansy name who got sent out west to change bedsheets. If you think you intimidate me, you got another thought comin' and I'm just the guy to give it to you."
Romeo's mouth hung open as he turned to Geo, who was laughing and shaking his head, muttering, "Pansy name, oh, that's good."
Slappy was apparently just getting warmed up, however, as he began pacing back and forth in front of Romeo. "I'm not here to be your Sambo, see, I'm strictly a button man." He thumped his scrawny chest. "You got some palooka you need rubbed out, I'm the eraser. Otherwise, I don't shine shoes. See?"
Romeo blinked several times and turned to Geo. “Is he always like this? He talk like this all the time, or is this just for me?”
Geo shook his head. “From the moment we closed the car doors and started to roll.” He put a hand on Romeo’s shoulder and looked into his eyes. “If I hadn’t a picked him up from the Boss’ own home, I’d a had to pop his sack before we crossed the fuckin’ Catskills. You have my sympathy, brother.” Then he burst into laughter again.
The boy still paced a few feet away eyeing them both with a slit-eyed glare. “You got something to say about me, pug? Why don’t you say it to my face? Huh? You think I can’t hear?” He cupped his large, prominent ears, “I got ears right here, see? G'head, let’s hear you say it to my face.”
Romeo and Geo stared at him, looked at each other and laughed again.
“Pug?” Romeo pointed at Geo, who shrugged. “I don’t know, he just pulls it out of his ass.”
Romeo shook his head and twirled his finger next to his ear. "The Boss said he was a special kid, I didn't realize he meant crazy..."
Slappy pulled a knife out of his pocket with surprising speed and waved it with practiced menace. “I’ll cut you for that…” he seethed.
“Whoa.” Romeo looked at Geo, eyebrows raised.
“Yeah, here we go with the fuckin’ knife…” Geo said, shaking his head.
Romeo stepped over quick as Slappy made a show of slashing at the air with his knife and dropped the kid’s knee. The knife clattered to the ground as Slappy crumpled, clamping his knee with both hands and howling.
“Did you take it away from him?” Romeo asked as he picked up the knife.
“Yeah, of course I did. Little shit.” Geo spat on the ground beside Slappy.
Romeo examined the knife, it was a beautiful weapon in good condition. “How’d he get it back?”
“Ah, it’s the fuckin’ whining I can’t take. You know?”
Romeo sighed, closed the knife up and put it in his pocket. “Come on, lets get you a beer and a room. A nice cool shower'll make you feel like a new man.”
Slappy rocked back and forth on the ground, groaning and holding his throbbing knee as they walked away, "You fuckin' crippled me you bastard, you're gonna pay, you're dead, you hear me?"
His eyes were squeezed shut from the pain, but flew open when he felt hot air blowing in his face from three different directions. The dogs all stood over him looking down into his face curiously. He let out a small yelp as they began to lick his face enthusiastically.
Carol had an awful feeling that someone was following her. She heard footsteps. Whispering voices flitted by her ears like moths. Fearing the shadows and unnerved by the cave-like alleys, she glanced back repeatedly, but could see no one. Nothing was behind her but a long, dark, deserted city street.
She had never chanced coming home from the diner that way because Babs had drummed it into her to choose safety over convenience. “You won’t get home any quicker if you have to take a detour through the morgue,” she had said while drawing out a safe route. But Carol didn’t have money to spare for the subway, and taking a shortcut down La Fayette Street was so much faster. Just this once, she promised herself. Babs will never find out.
The lights had gone out just as she passed the point where turning back and going another way would still have meant walking in the dark for blocks. It looked like the electricity was off for the whole neighborhood.
She walked faster for a little ways. The footsteps started up again. She glanced back and stopped short, turning around to stare up the street behind her. About two blocks back, the streetlights were back on and shabby apartment windows threw out patchworks of amber. As she watched, another streetlamp came on. She paused expectantly, hoping the lights would come back on down where she was, too.
Before she could turn around again, there was movement right behind her. She felt the hair over the back of her neck move aside as if blown by a wind, but the warm summer air was dead still. She smelled cigarette smoke curling around her face.
She ran. She didn’t even look; she just took off back toward the light. When she got about twenty yards from the first lit streetlamp, it clicked off and the lighted windows nearby blew out like candles. Darkness rolled down the street ahead of her.
She winced and threw her hands up as she glanced over her shoulder expecting to see someone closing in on her. But there was no one. She stopped and tried to listen above her panting breath and pounding heart. She realized her purse had dropped as she took off. Maybe that was all he’d wanted, she thought. She stood there trying to calm herself and get her breath back.
Suddenly it was dead quiet. There were no cars, no voices, no dogs barking or radios playing, no doors slamming or any of a thousand different noises that filled the background in the city at night. It was as if she’d gone deaf and was feeling the sound of her own breath and her pounding heart from the inside. Without warning, cold, rolling cramps grabbed hold of her deep down, like the worst menstrual cramps she’d ever had. It was as if a cold hand had ahold of her uterus, her ovaries, squeezing and examining. She uttered a quiet, bewildered moan and grabbed at her belly, expecting a rush of blood to course down her thighs.
Instead, all the sounds rushed back onto the street and a single streetlamp, the one directly above her, came on with the intensity of a surgeon’s spotlight. The cramping stopped as quickly as it had begun. Footsteps began coming toward her slow and steady – a man’s walk. She spun around inside the circle of bright light, but she couldn’t tell which direction the sound came from. She strained her eyes trying to penetrate the darkness beyond the border of the streetlamp.
A skeletal face with glittering eyes emerged out of the blackness and a bony hand brought a cigarette to its grinning mouth. She slammed her back up against the lamppost in fright. She gasped so hard it made her choke and cough. But as she stared at the gruesome skull, it became clear that it was a thin, hard-looking man that stood before her drawing on a cigarette, his face highlighted and shadowed by the harsh lamplight. He blew out a long stream of smoke that rushed at her like a thick white snake and stared as she struggled to catch her breath.
“Did I startle you, Miss? My apologies.” His voice was cold with an edge of sneer in it. She said nothing, still coughing and gasping for breath.
“A pretty young girl like you shouldn’t be out on such a long dark street alone.” He tsked and took another drag off his cigarette, “Unless of course… you’re working?” Taking in her cheap, simple dress and sensible shoes, he shook his head. “But no, you don’t look like the type.” He studied her while she trembled, trying to get her composure back.
She forced out a small, shaky voice, “Let me pass.”
His eyebrows shot up in amusement and he gave an exaggerated shrug, “Of course.” He stepped aside with a sweep of his hand, but as she lurched by him, he reached out and ran his cold, claw like fingers along her arm. She shrieked at his touch. “This is a dangerous neighborhood,” he hissed at her as she stepped out of the light and ran back down the street.
“I’d be happy to escort you, young lady,” he called after her. He listened to her heels clattering away in answer. He chuckled and moved off in the opposite direction.
As Mr. G walked away beneath the darkened streetlamps, he pondered the miracle of ovaries. All those perfect tiny eggs, each one unique and filled with raw potential. It was marvelous, really. You could make anything you wanted from their substance; it was the ultimate medium. The energy of life itself in concentrated form. Smaller than insect eyes, protected, internal, beautifully contained. So efficiently packaged. Not like testicles. Now that was just bad planning. Horrible design.
But then, what were the blundering tadpoles of men compared to the perfection of ova? It was the only thing women were good for, but it was something. He pictured ovaries in his mind, carefully opened to reveal tightly packed individual lives, red and luscious, like pomegranate seeds ready to be harvested.
He heard the woman scream once, sharply. Good boy, Chester, he thought as he continued down the street and wondered if the Boss’ sleep would be restless with pain and anticipation that night. He hoped so.