Home | Fiction | Skels of the South Bay Motel: Excerpt # 1

Skels of the South Bay Motel: Excerpt # 1

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In an excerpt from his novella, Bob Freville gives us an exploded view of the South Bay Motel, a "discount form of sanctuary" that is reflective of a less wholesome slice of Americana.

The South Bay Motel is one of those in-between places, a mid-level hovel too shoddy and flea-ridden to be considered classy or even quaint, and too private and unassuming to be called an outright whorehouse. A haven to the crack crowd and the traveling salesman alike, South Bay advertises itself as the premier lodging for a scenic view of Lake Copiague. The walls of the rooms are an understated alabaster, for the most part.  The carpets, whenever they are not burned or ashy, boast an all-to-familiar Baroque design that strives for casino flare or elegance, but comes off as an ugly stroke of Eastern pomposity.

The actual lake mirrors the motel’s overall milieu on shitty days—a green, dewy miasma full of swollen bottom feeders lurking under the abysmal surface and chasing bits of detritus around under the foamy pashmina of an indigo night. Nothing terrible had happened here (or so I am sure the management would tell you in hopelessly flawed English) and nothing wholesome had ever transpired either.

But so what? That’s not what motels are about. They are a discount form of sanctuary, a structure of tiny rooms built for sleeping, fucking, partying and plotting the next action.

The room we were staying in had double beds, even though I had argued with the front desk for fifteen minutes about the importance of getting a room with a single bed big enough for two people, on the second floor. The bed didn’t really bother me, as the twin beds turned out to be of equal size. It was the principle of the thing that irked me. This is their way of sticking it to the contemptible infidels that are their primary customers. Charge them lofty weekend rates to have their amoral fun, but make them as uncomfortable as possible. Try and keep their key deposit when they leave, unless they demand it. If they remember it and call you on your petty thievery, laugh and shine a yellow smile at them. “Ha! Ha! Scurvy American swine knows what I’m up to! Good show!”

Unlike the American salesman who knows that amenities pay off in return business, this horrid bunch acknowledge that their core clientele are desperate and horny guttersnipes who will continue to shell out money for bed bugs and ringworm if it means getting off and getting there to get off quick. Exploit the powerless—that is the central principle of motel curators the world over. Consequently, it is the same principle shared by many big business types who see nothing questionable about using an employee to finish a huge project before giving them the boot when the project is done.

I was meditating on this as I nursed some Bacardi at our little oval-shaped card table. Violet was sitting Indian-style on the edge of the bed, taking thirsty swigs off a tall can and heckling the E! Channel for their lackluster fashion coverage. As she set her can down and reached for a cigarette she noticed my countenance.

"What’s wrong?" she asked, taking stock not only of my sour expression but also my frantic juggling of two Dutchmaster cigars. "Are the blunts stale?"

"No," I said.

"Then what’s the matter?"

I lied, not just to appease her but out of a veritable desire to be having the sort of overzealous blast any grade-schooler would be having in our position. "Nothing’s the matter. I’m just wondering why we aren’t jumping up and down on those beds."


The next fourteen hours were a straight bacchanalia imbued with medium-bodied coconut rum from West Palm Beach, assorted party favors stolen from my Party City days, voluminous amounts of ice accumulating in corners of the room and a fusillade of smarmy comments about strangers on television. We talked, at cokehead pace, about the culture and its inherent flaws. We considered who we would need to speak to in order to assimilate the facts. What did culture have to do with people’s mentalities of late? How much did one’s mentality affect the universe around them? Were we coming off like a couple of New Age Nancies who were too blitzed for their own good?

***


The Old Country Buffet is the restaurant for the person who wants everything, but has very little. For under $20 you can flail around a capacious floor, pacing from case to case and overflowing your hot plate with everything from cauliflower and black eyed peas to buffalo wings and Chinese sesame chicken. It is the only place where every wonderful flavor of Ethnicity collides. This could be said of the clientele as well, as the buffet is home to folks of every possible complexion or dialect and they are all united in their desire to have some good eatin’ good and cheap.

Violet and I took a booth against the back wall. I had already filled my first plate when Violet ran off to get us some soda. By the time she returned with our glasses, I had already worked my way through the better part of my sesame chicken-corndog-coleslaw-and-cheese platter and was ready to stock up on some wings.

The Old Country is where a sloppy, bushy-haired cracker in mismatched leisurewear can not only get away with sucking barbecue off his fingers and shouting about cornbread but actually elicit warm smiles and laughter from his fellow patrons of color. Race doesn’t matter when it comes to food, especially soul food. And nothing quenches the spirit like an all-you-can-eat buffet.


I was on my second plate, a hodge podge of tortilla, salsa, beef and bean, when I began to break out in a sweat and get jittery. My nerves were shot from going for so long without eating anything substantial and now, with a belly full of coconut rum and sesame chicken, my system was getting confused and throwing signals around wildly, trying to understand what was happening to it.

"I feel sick…"

"Here," Violet said, offering me a hunk of her rich chocolaty dessert. "Try this."

"God no!" I cried. "I think I’m about to ooze on to the floor and throw up on myself."

"Your body is just not used to this kind of culinary splendor. And your brain is mostly responsible."

"They’re going to have to drag me out of here on two gurneys and get the swelling out in some backroom infirmary." I looked down at my uneaten plate and picked some cheese off the top of my fajita, nibbling it for composure.

"You should have some brain food. Get some clams and we’ll share ‘em."

"You’re fucking sick," I said. "I won’t eat anything brimming with piss…it’s the texture of day-old snot." I grimaced. "All those people sucking them back like they’re some decadent miracle delicacy. Devouring…"

"But it’s not like that," Violet insisted. "You don’t have to suck them off the shell."

"Oh no?" I replied incredulously.

"No, you just slide a knife underneath and slice it out from the blood vein."

I would have projectile vomited poorly-chewed buffalo wings right then and there…if it hadn’t been for the adorable niña sitting in a high chair across from us. She was a precious and wise little girl with shiny black hair in tiny pigtails. Her chubby face and rosy cheeks were second only to her in-the-know attitude. The more we smiled and waved at her, the more she would study us with troubled eyes, as if she was on to us and felt bad for our situation. Look at these truly pathetic people over here. God, how awful! And they seem loco to boot.

She dropped her milk bottle at one point and I crouched down to get it and return it to her little hands. Her greasy mother, a portly woman with a uni-brow, turned to look at me, seeming to disregard the fact that a total stranger was within snatching distance of her daughter, until I smiled at her, to convey my adoration of her cute little offspring. Only then did she feign some sense of maternal pride.

The kid would eat her food and get it all over her face, throw silverware under the table and kick around hyper-actively, all without any acknowledgement from her mother, her grandmother or the other shady sorts occupying the table. But she struck us as aware enough to scream out if someone were to bother her. She brought her attention back to us several times as I slumped against the wall and Violet pecked at her dessert.

"Is she not the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?" Violet asked.

"Yeah, too bad her twat of a mother doesn’t see that."

"We should steal her, raise her as our own. She could probably teach us a lot about life."

"Yeah, right?"

"Oh Bobby, she’s too cute."

Niña’s face was covered in food and slick with soda. Her family did not notice. The only time they looked in her direction was accidentally, when they happened to turn their attention to our side of the room and caught some blue-eyed gringo and his half-Puerto Rican honey eye-balling the kid. I wondered what was worse for them—to see some blond-haired cabron with a beautiful Italian-Latin dream or to know that he was paying more attention to their child than they probably ever did.

If the question of my relations to Violet had become an issue I would have answered right away. "I like my women like I like my rum: Straight and Puerto Rican."

The kid was another story. How could I tell someone who barely spoke English that they were practicing bad parenting.

Violet watched as the mother neglected the baby bottle wedged under her seat and Niña’s eyes welled up with tears. "We should snatch her up."

"Yeah," I said, squinting my eyes up pensively. "What do you think this place’s policy is on Code Adam?"


***

We left the buffet once we were both sufficiently full. As Violet pulled out of the parking lot, I yanked the blue bandana from my throbbing head. The food and the drink and the general excitement of the Old Country had given me a migraine. “I have to take this thing off before my frontal lobe explodes and jizzes all over my neck.” Violet thought I was being a little dramatic which I probably was, but considering all the fun we were having I was feeling pretty under the weather.


Eddie Money’s "Take Me Home Tonight" was blaring on the radio as we pulled down a Dead End so Violet could throw up somewhere private. But she had to circle around when we saw that the houses all had pillars. The inhabitants of this peaceful cul-de-sac would pick up the phone as soon as the lung butter touched the blacktop.

"All right, fuck this! Never mind!"

"No," I said. "You have to get it out of your system. Turn around and throw up..." I immediately choked when I saw that we were looking out on Wellwood Avenue and directly in front of us was the Community Bulletin Board, a giant stone edifice that read, "Kiwanis Welcomes You…" Yes, turn around and throw up…somewhere where there aren’t signs for the Kiwanis.

"This place is a circle jerk meet & greet for cops," I explained. "With all the power you’re releasing it isn’t safe to walk the city streets a…" And just then I noticed the sign post that read, in tall bold letters, “WE BUILD” and I got my gag reflex.


We rushed up the stairs to the second story of the South Bay and swiped the key card in record time, but he caught us anyway. There before us stood the dishearteningly emaciated bill collector of their operation, a bug-eyed man with jacked up teeth. Standing beside him was the short, mustachioed woman in the Salwar Kameezes, her hair tied back in an understated bun. They asked us if we needed anything and my first reaction was to say, “No, we’re all right, thanks.” As I closed the door, Violet shouted from the bathroom for me to get some fresh towels. I leaned out the door and asked our bug-eyed friend if we could get another set of towels. He handed them to me and I said, "Thanks."

As I recoiled from the doorframe, the man held out his hand. "Teep?"

"Oh, yeah," I said, caught off-guard and stammering. "I-I…I’ll leave it when we check out."

He peered into the room and saw the preponderance of empty beer bottles littering the nightstands.

"You leave bottles for us, okay?"

I forced a smile and closed the door, collected the bottles and then stepped out into the hallway where I found the aromatic couple still standing and folding sheets. I handed the bottles to the woman and the bug-eyed guy nodded in appreciation. "Thank you."

Bartering has long been one of my favorite things and I have often wished that we could return to a time when that was how we all did business together. To see the maid and her clean-up “boy” so satisfied with our exchange briefly restored my faith in humanity. Empty bottles in return for services rendered seemed like a fair deal and to share smiles of congruity as a result was all the more pleasing.


The faith didn’t last long, as Violet left me alone in the motel to travel to an assignment. I begged her not to go. "How am I supposed to grapple with this if you’re not here to slap me in the face with a paint brush?" But I knew that it was requisite that she must take her short hiatus from the clammy environs of the room.

"I’m sorry," she said. "I gotta do this. My brother’s counting on me to put together a mix tape of lousy pop songs for his graduation and that shit ain’t gonna make itself."

So I stayed behind, growing more asthmatic as the afternoon wore on. I felt like my lungs were closing up and I couldn’t figure out why. Was it the knowledge that we were living a spendthrift lifestyle that we wouldn’t be able to pay off? Was it the fear that we would never figure out what is essentially responsible for mankind’s ills? Or was it the chain-smoking in a confined space?” I couldn’t be sure.

When it got really bad, I stepped out of the room to get some fresh air and brought a plastic cup full of Cruzan coconut rum with me. Maybe it will bite right through this putrid thing in my chest. This is how I came to meet Von Hess.

Over the railing I could make out a raggedy gentleman flailing around, struggling to chain a bicycle to a street sign. Then he started around the corner, up the South Bay driveway and, inevitably, up the stairs. We had always had pretty good luck with the people at South Bay, as opposed to the considerably more outrageous crazies at neighboring motels. Still, I was constantly on guard, in the event that one might pop up at any minute.

As the haggard gentleman made his way past me, I deliberately stared off into the boat dock across the highway. I figured we would both ignore each other, but that’s the thing about these places. Most folks go out of their way to at least say "Hello" to each other.

The haggard gentleman said, "What’s up?" He looked like a fortysomething Father Jack impersonator, a crusty Irish-American shit-weevil in a pilsner-and-semen-stained V-neck shirt, once white but now yellow and crunchy just like his sagging flesh.

"Hey," I said. "How ya doin?"

He continued to pass me, but then doubled back. "Hey, ya got an extra smoke, man?"

"Oh, sure," I said, reaching into my pocket. Shit! I had just smoked the last cigarette and the full packs were inside the room. I turned around, very aware of my surroundings, and carefully unlocked the door, closed the door halfway and scooped my new pack off the card table. I returned to the hall and took the foil off the pack.

"Hey thanks," he said before I had even given him one of the cigarettes. "Ya know, you seem like a cool dude. What are you doing, man? I see you gotta drink? You’re just hanging out?"

I nodded in the affirmative. "Yeah?" he said. "Hey that’s cool, brother. I’m here to meet my old lady. Yeah, I was working across the street, but it’s too fucking hot out, man."

"Yeah, I hear ya," I said. This was the first of innumerable times I would utter that phrase in our long and off-kilter discourse.

"So like I was saying, it’s fucking hot out," he said. "I mean, it is too hot for human skin. I’m working over there and the boss expects me to be out in this shit and I’m like, FUCK THAT! I need a tent or something."

"You could probably get one of those over at National Wholesale Liquidators."

"Yeah," he said, giving the matter some serious thought. "They sell those there, don’t they?"

I nodded again. The haggard gentleman smiled. "Hey, you seem like a cool cat," he said, extending his hand. "My name’s Von Hess, what’s yours?"

I shook his hand and chomped down on some ice. "Bob. Nice to meet you, man."

"Hey, you don’t mind if I stand here and have a drink with you, do ya?"

He was already a quarter into the first of three 22 oz. bottles that were sitting by his feet in a plastic bag. "Nah," I said. "Go right ahead. Shit, it’s the only thing a guy can do on a day like this."

"You’re fuckin’ A," he said. "This shit is crazier than that song about the Rising Sun."

"Yeah, animals, that’s what they think we are."

"That’s right, man. Fuckin’ pole-smoking boss thinks I’m gonna work out in this. I need to get a fucking tent. I gotta get myself in a net. Like that burlap sack material, man. That would keep the sunlight out.

"I’ll tell ya, this town will eat people alive. That’s why I’m here."

"That’s why you’re in this town?" I couldn’t understand him so I wolfed back the rest of my drink, in an effort to be on his level.

"Nah," he said. "That’s why I’m at the South Bay. You know, I come here with my old lady a lot and so today she’s like, 'You gotta work so we aren’t gonna be able to go.' I said, 'Fuck you, bitch. I’m already at the fucking motel.' Cuz it’s just too hot, man. And that guy is out of his fool head if he thinks I’m working in this shit."

Von Hess liked to repeat himself a lot, but what he said was classic American nightmare. The shit that we crow about to our friends when we’re at our lowest is the kind of shit that Von Hess liked to dissect. He was all about realizing the nature of the machine.

“This fucking guy is holding twenty-five g’s worth of commercial equipment,” he said, referring to the automotive equipment he had tied up in some dude’s auto body shop. “And he’s giving me some bullshit about working for him. He should be working for me!”

Our conversation was scrambled and breathless, but the meat of his plight was clear enough. Von Hess was once a big player in the antique car restoration game, but his business fell through and now he was living in his shop and sweating blood and piss to make the $900 a month rent. His father was a real estate mogul who owned hundreds of acres of land in Pennsylvania, but their relationship was slightly queered by Von Hess’s meddling with crack-cocaine.

Looking at Von Hess, it was all-too-clear why we hit it off so well. It was a given that Von Hess was drunk, otherwise he probably wouldn’t have stopped to chat up some twenty-something guy in a black fedora with an alien tattoo on his arm. But I listened intently to his ramblings as he did mine because we were hauntingly simpatico. When I studied his face, I saw a distant, weather-beaten echo of my own years of regrets and failed attempts. If Dorian Gray were a boozy horndog grease monkey from Long Island, he would be Von Hess. 

"So many people out here are just human pieces of shit. They grumble as they walk past. But ya know, I’m the type of guy…I like life…what did you say your name was?"

"Bob."

"Bob! I like life, Bob. And I’m a friendly guy. That’s the kind of person I am. And you seem like a pretty good dude, ya know? So I mean we’re just two guys talking here."

"Yeah," I said, raising my empty cup and pouring the last of the melting ice on to my coated tongue. "And those people aren’t worth it anyway. It’s all about status and shit with them. If you mow your lawn, they gotta mow their lawn. But they’ve gotta put down some fancy fertilizer."

"YEEEEAAAAAHHHH!!!!!!" Von Hess knew what I was talking about. "It’s like that fuckhead I’m working for. The guy’s got shit for brains, but he thinks he can hold my equipment hostage."

His chest heaved over the railing as his face dropped. "It’s a vicious world, Bobby. And it’s hard to get work, man. People aren’t concerned about people any more. They don’t care if you’re a good person. It only matters what you can do for ‘em."

"Oh, I know," I said. "They cut you off at the blood vein. I was working at a Student Exchange, ya know, bringing these foreign kids to America to give them the U.S. cultural experience and they fired me just shy of six months. No severance. And I saw people dropping like flies. I knew I was next.

"But it was a real surprise, at the same time, because I thought I had finally established myself. It makes you realize how expendable a human being can be in a corporation."

Von Hess nodded, but I could see that he didn’t know what I was talking about. What the fuck was some drunken kid doing working as a suit while he was out there sweating his balls off on the regular? Instead of questioning it, he reached into his bag and bit the cap off another bottle. He spit it over the railing where it landed in a basket of dirty laundry.

"It’s hard, Bob. I lost a job a couple months back. I was closing the deal on customizing this rich fuck’s car. But my bitch comes in and she sees the guy’s wife putting her arm around me and flirting. Now I’m not stupid, I know I’m a good lookin’ guy."

I gestured with my empty cup, as if to say, "Sure, sure, of course!"

"So she’s got her arm around me," he says. "And my lady calls her a cunt. That blew it, man."

I went inside to grab a beer out of the mini-fridge. Von Hess followed me in and dumped his dead weight down into the chair, surveying the disaster area.

"Hey, you live like us. You live like a couple slobs." He laughed before swigging the foam at the bottom of his second to last bottle. "Hey, ya know, we’re just two guys talkin’ here, but this is important in life."

"Uh-huh," I said, stepping out of the room to signal that I was not getting comfy in doors. Von Hess followed me out with gummy legs and swung his arm over the railing again. "I mean, I told my boss the other day, I don’t judge people until…after the fact. I like to think people are basically good."

"They’re rotten," I said, interrupting his stream-of-consciousness commentary on existence. "But there are a few karats in the manure."

"Yeah," he concurred. "It’s all about living the way you wanna live."

His "bitch" finally came through. She was a leathery-looking crack whore with absolutely no social skills. I said, "Hi" and she ignored me, taking the key card from Von Hess and dragging her feet down the hall without a word. Von Hess made me nervous with talk of coming back to my room to see what’s up after having at his bitch for awhile and finishing his beer. He took off mid-sentence and never returned.

The last thing of note I remember from our exchange was his allusion to taking his girlfriend on as an investor in his "business." Things were rocky, he said. But to be expected. The Bitch had taken the scraggly Mr. Von Hess as her sexual partner and, in doing so, made herself a partner in the commercial debacle that was his career failure.

***

As it turned out, working on an experiment regarding the human condition was not much different than any other kind of work. Even though I didn’t have to rely on busting my balls to earn a paycheck, the work still proved grueling and monotonous and after a couple of hours of exhausting all my contacts I hadn’t gotten any further than jotting down what I could remember of Von Hess and his perverted gesticulation when he was describing his sexual conquests.

After Violet had returned with some eggplant parmigiana for the starving artist in the black fedora, I lifted my enfeebled eyes from the crispy notebook and focused in on a News Special. A man with a rubbery face was staring back at me. He looked very familiar, his jutting chin, his soft eyes and his crooked palooka mouth. But the facial hair was throwing me. Then I recognized him. It was Screech!

"Maybe this shit is ultimately responsible for our generation’s stifling depression," I said as I watched Dustin Diamond peddling fifteen dollar "Save Screech" T-shirts on the News. He was trying to raise enough money in T-shirt sales to save his rural home before getting the boot from an odious figure who had fronted him the house with the stipulation that when the man decided he needed the money for the house, for one reason or another, Diamond would have to come up with it. The washed-up and damn near penniless star did not expect to be hit up for the money so abruptly, but lo, the day had come and the single-digit royalty checks for re-aired episodes of Saved By The Bell were not going to make the grade.

Violet winced at my remark, raising her face out of the bathtub. It was a sticky situation in the lavatory that night and she was probably irate about having to slosh through a puddle of up-chuck to reach the tub where she created much of her Art. The slipperiness had been enough, she didn’t need any malarkey from me. Bringing Dustin Diamond into the mix only added insult to the injury I had already caused by insisting on drinking dinner.

"What the fuck?" she moaned. "Are you serious?!"

I gestured with the remote for her to come in and check out the harrowing saga. The sight of the stretchy-faced puppy dog man-boy was enough to erase any memory of the syrupy chamber of our restroom facilities.

"Awwwwww!"  I had her! Sympathy equaled reaction. Reaction equaled breakthrough.

"See," I said. "We empathize with this guy. Screech is part of the human condition…or…the human dilemma. This shit happens to people all the time, but who would think it could happen to Screech?"

It seemed pretty obvious. If this can happen to Screech, then we’re fucked. Why should we bother when even our childhood icons are washed-up and done in?

"I wish there was something we could do for him," Violet said. "Bobby, buy a T-shirt!"

"Okay," I replied. "But I would have to buy a lot more than one shirt to secure this dude’s house for him."

"Every penny counts," Violet reminded me in a sage-like tone.

I pondered this deeply with brow firmly furrowed. "That’s the mentality of your garden variety tweaker."


I understood how it must feel to be a speed freak when I realized how marvelously awful it is to be the last person left awake in a quiet room. Even with radio or TV the loneliness is inundating; if anything the scripted spots and the over-played pop songs only act as an irritating emphasis to the feeling of being alone in a fragile square that could implode at any time, putting you right out in the open without a guide. Except YOU are the Guide. And you are lost. And everything is moving fast, but you appear to be drudging through it at a sluggish pace…Because everything around you is stagnant…But the brain is alert, at least alert enough to be conscious of the fact that it is the only working organ in the room.

The speed freaks, on the other hand, are constantly propelled forward, if by desire or an artificial steam…or, simply, by the urge to score for another day. Of course, speed freaks are not important to the history now developing and the one to come.

Cocaine and methamphetamine are yesterday’s drugs. For truckers and suits alike Red Bull is the Future. It is their drug of choice. And the beauty part of the whole thing lies in its convenience, in being able to cut through the bullshit and just roll into 7-Eleven and scoop a couple cans up before moving on…No forty-five minute wait at a rest stop, hoping someone will come through with cheap amphetamine wrapped in aluminum foil. Turn your tongue orange. There’s nothing quite like a fruity trip.

The speed freak rarely sleeps and when he does, he does it in such a long pattern of hibernation that it would seem he attains the rare position of slipping into some synthetic womb. Which sounds a lot better than pacing back and forth or twiddling one’s thumbs in hopes that those droopy eyelids will slam shut long enough to ignore the fact that you are the only conscious person left to grapple with the whirlpool of blackness we call Night.


I drifted out of the room at 4:35 am to gaze, dreadfully un-drunk and baleful, into the murky black of that Lake Copiague that nobody can swim in. When I walked to the end of the hall and leaned over the railing to consider taking the plunge into the mini-waterfall below, I was caught off-guard by peripheral movement. Turning swiftly to my right, I saw a figure out on the Avenue. She moved like the apparition in some post-Ring thriller, an almost deliberate display of limbs locked up and then seized by sudden bolts of life.

She paused by a Yield sign and seemed to face me. I thought from that distance that she might have been a battered girlfriend or a starving young runaway. I could tell, even with poorly-kept lenses, that she knew I was watching her so I averted my eyes. Trying to play it cool, I lit a cigarette and took several sips off my drink. When I heard a dispute erupting in the parking lot across the water, I knew she was going to see me so I fell back, moving along the rails until the panorama of the unimpressive abyss was right in front of me.

It was a moment before I very surreptitiously peered around the corner to see where she was at and if she was all right. The Yield sign stood lonely in the street and, for a short beat, I thought the little runaway had moved on. Until I saw the skeletal woman slumped against the wall along the opposite side of the concrete island through which the lake’s culvert ran. Taking off her shoes, she settled in a terribly mangled position against the side of the adjacent restaurant. I couldn’t make out her pained expressions, but she was jacked-up.

It was an enervating experience, seeing what I thought was a fleeing child metamorphosing into a mess of an old whore. I was years behind this woman in regrets, but I wondered if she had started out as I had, up here on the balcony, looking down at the urchins below and feeling sorry for them. After all, they were in far worse condition than she was.

When I heard her sniffle, I rushed back inside and took care to chain the door shut and wedge a chair under the handle. Not to keep people out so much as to alert me if some slut-for-cocaine came barging in looking for a customer.


I whirled around and found Violet sprawled out across the mattress horizontally. She was half-naked and her mouth had dropped open in her deep state of slumber. Her body was stretched out and bent into a shape that resembled an “S.” Two single strands of her highlighted hair stuck up and her shoelaces were pointed South.

And above her head a sketch pad lies open on a new drawing—a sketch of a fairy nymph, fair and free and able to fly away and escape the mess.

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