Pink Skirts

Stella was in a roadside motel down south in Louisiana. Baton Rouge. Her room was on the second floor.

She closed the thin, pink curtains over the windows, tight, trying to keep out the garish red and white lights of the motel’s sign.

Stella did not wake before three in the afternoon. She would lie in bed, wait for her man to show up. His name was Harry. He was a white man. She preferred white men because they usually had money.

She had met him a few weeks earlier in a dive bar off Highway 1. He was older than her by at least ten years, making him fifty or so, but in terms of drinking they were equals—and that was important to her. She needed to know that her man would be up for a drink whenever she was. And she was always up for a drink.

It was seven o’clock and Harry was half-an-hour late. Stella didn’t mind too much. She had always been good with patience. She got up from bed and walked to the bathroom. She drank cool water from the faucet and stared at herself in the mirror. She placed her hands underneath her heavy breasts and pushed them together, exaggerating her cleavage. She liked the way the red neon lights reflected off of her smooth, brown skin, making her look waxy and shiny. She would blow kisses at herself from between her large, dry lips. You still got it, she told herself, flicking off the bathroom light and getting back into the bed.

There was a knock on the door.

It was a soft, nervous knock. She knew it was him. He prolly jus’ got caught up somewhere and thas’ why he late, she thought as she slid out of bed and ambled toward the door.

She opened the door and revealed a small, pudgy man. He was wearing a tan rain slicker even though the air was dry as a bone and the nighttime sky was purple and cloudless. The large collar of his jacket was popped up; it swallowed the sides of his face. Atop his head he wore an old fedora. His beak-like nose protruded from his face like a pointed finger. It was a rude nose, an intrusive nose. His skin was red and ruddy and his teeth were small and wine-stained.

“Stella?” he whispered, his breath rank with liquor.

“Who you think?” She smiled at him. “Baby, you drunk,” she said as she turned and walked back toward the bed. “Why you didn’t bring none for me?”

She heard the door shut behind her.

She lied on the bed and pulled herself into the fetal position. She could feel the hem of her loose, black dress hanging just over the edge of her butt.

She expected to hear the sounds of Harry removing his jacket, perhaps removing his shoes. She expected to feel him crawling into bed next to her, wrapping his arms around her and spooning her. She expected to hear something—anything. But he didn’t move.

“Drunk I am,” Harry muttered. Stella thought about his accent—how strange it was to her ears. His words had sounded like Drahnk ah ahm. Harry had told her before that he was from “Out East yonder.” She had never met anyone else who sounded like he did, talked like he did.

She rolled over on the bed and propped herself up on her elbow. One of the straps of her dress hung loose around her bicep. She furrowed her brow and felt her hair—done up in a bun—as it pulled on the skin of her forehead. She looked at Harry over her shoulder. His face was a dark silhouette against the illuminated pink curtains covering the window, but she could clearly see the rest of his body.

“Quit actin’ the fool,” she said. “Why you so late?”

“When the bottle calls… the man answers,” Harry said as he began to unbutton his slicker. His face was tilted downward. She watched his hands. His fingers were small and stubby. His nails were unclean. He twirled a gold band on his ring finger.

She remembered the first time she had ever paid close attention to those fingers. They had been in their bar, the one in which they’d met only a few days beforehand. The smell of stale beer and ashtrays all around them. A white-dude’s moping coming from the jukebox. She had been watching those small, unclean fingers tap the ashes off a cigarette when she had told him that her lease had run out and she couldn’t keep her apartment. He had agreed to get her the motel room until she could get some money together. “How ‘bout you buy me anotha drink to celebrate?” she had asked him, flashing her teeth.

A large truck rumbled down the highway outside the motel room and interrupted her reverie. It sounded like thunder. The shade of the lamp on the nightstand rattled back and forth.

“Stella…” the man said as he removed his jacket, exposing a rumpled, old, pin-striped suit. It looked like he’d slept in it. “You know who you remind me of?” he asked, his voice grave. “A bitch I used to know. Darlene.” He paused. “Would you like to hear about her?”

She was nervous now. She didn’t like the way he was talking to her. “Tell me whatev’ you wan’ to,” she said, her voice quivering. She sat up on the bed and threw her legs around the side so she faced him. She touched the tips of her toes to the worn carpet. She thought that perhaps she should paint her toes soon. They were chipped.

Harry hung his slicker up on the coat hanger by the door. Then he walked over to a small armchair in the corner of the room. Away from the red lights, Stella could make out Harry’s face. His brow was wrinkled and his mouth was slack. He looked skunked.

The armchair was facing the bed. He sat down, crossed one leg over the other, removed the stub of a cheap cigar from his suit-jacket pocket, and placed it in his mouth. He did not light it.

“She was a dark girl, just like you,” Harry began. She noticed his accent again. He pronounced dark like daahck.

He paused, chewed on his cigar, removed his hat and threw it on the floor. His hair was thin and oily. “We grew up together. ‘Round the same neighborhood. Her father knew my father.” He paused again, collecting his thoughts. “Well, not exactly. You see, my father owned a little barber shop, and her father—Darlene’s father—was a sweep there.”

He took out a lighter and fiddled with it. Then he leaned forward and lit his cigar. A few strands of his stringy hair slipped down onto his forehead. He brushed them back into place. Blue coils of acrid smoke hung around his head, rising to the ceiling.

“She was a beautiful girl,” Harry continued. “She had big lips and large eyes. I thought she was so beautiful.” He puffed on his cigar and chuckled. “Her and her friends used to make fun of me. They’d follow me home from school, pestering me for blocks and blocks. ‘Fat cracker’ they called me. ‘Fat little whitey.’ Once they all ganged up on me behind old man Morrison’s deli. There was this little alley, you see, that connected two streets behind Morrison’s and I used to use it when I was coming home from school. They had been waiting for me, you see. Stella and two or three of her friends.”

Stella flinched at the mention of her name—she hadn’t been expecting it. He talkin’ about me or her?

Blood throbbed behind her ears.

“They hit me over the head with a rock and I fell down. I fell into a puddle and got my pants wet. I remember lying there, in that puddle. I remember the pain that pounded in my head—the warm blood that trickled down the back of my neck. The water was so cold. I watched them laughing and skipping down the alley and turning the corner onto the street. They were all wearing these little pink skirts.”

She listened carefully to what Harry was telling her. She stared at her feet. He’s tellin’ me this ‘cause he want me to know ‘bout him.

“My mother whooped my ass when I got home. She was mad that I’d gotten my clothes wet and dirty. When my father came home he gave me a whooping too. He told me I had to stick up for myself, had to defend myself. Even if it was against girls, even if they were black girls, that I still had to fight ‘em.

“Well, I never fought back. I let them hassle me. I let them take whatever change I had in my pockets. I let them take my lunches.”

He puffed on his cigar again. The blue haze around his face was impenetrable. His voice was lost in the fog.

Another truck lumbered down the highway outside. “I could never stick up for myself around her. Because I thought she was so beautiful. I thought maybe she was picking on me because she liked me. I thought maybe it was just kid’s stuff.” He laughed. His laugh sounded stuck in his throat. “I actually liked that she gave me so much attention.”

She nodded her head slowly at Harry. What he gettin’ at?

Harry stubbed his cigar out in an ashtray on the table beside his chair.

“You want to see the scar?” Harry asked.

“The scar?”

“Yeah, from where Darlene clocked me over the head with the rock.” He got up from the chair and turned around. He reached around the back of his head and made a part in his hair. There was a large, shiny, pink flap of skin. It looked hard to the touch.

He turned back around.

“Come over here,” he commanded.She rose from the bed and walked the four or five steps over to his armchair. She did not hesitate. Her hands were shaking. Harry had never barked at her like that before, he had never gone out drinking by himself.

Harry rose and stood before her. Less than a foot separated them. He was several inches shorter than her. She could see the bald spot that covered the top of his head, could see the oily hairs he’d combed over it, how they stuck together in clumps. She could smell the liquor on his breath. Harry made a whining sound.

She thought that it sounded like a dog that had just been kicked by its master. The image of the scar flashed through her mind.

Then he yelled, “Pay for your own fucking room!”

His eyes turned mean and his lips snarled. Before she could even register what was happening, he threw his arm out and clipped her on the jaw with his fist. She wouldn’t have even realized he’d hit her if she hadn’t heard the clapping noise of his fist on her face.

She was about to laugh when he spat on her face. His spit was thick and warm. It hit her on her lips and ran down her chin.

It felt like her body was coated in static electricity. All of the hairs on her arms and on the back of her neck stood on end. He jus’ spit on me. He jus’ hit me and spit on me.

By the time the shock had passed through her body, he had already turned, grabbed his jacket and stormed out of the motel room. He left the door wide open. A flood of red neon light spilled across the carpet at a jagged angle. Another truck thundered down the highway outside. The noise of its sixteen wheels all moving at once made hot tears well up behind her eyes. Her jaw ached.

She wiped the spit from her mouth with the back of her hand, then quickly walked to the door, shut it and locked it. She was crying now. The tears streamed down her cheeks. But she was not sad. She was crying out of anger, out of helplessness. “He spit on me!” she yelled. “That mutha fucka jus’ spit on me!” She walked across the room, back to the bed. She stepped on the fedora that he’d left behind—in his haste to leave. She took no notice of it.

She tried to lie down again but it was no use.

She got up and walked to the bathroom. She stood before the mirror just as she had earlier that night. Only now she did not play with her cleavage. She did not blow herself kisses. She did not like the way the red light reflected off her skin. It was almost as if she didn’t recognize the woman who stood before her. That woman was old. That woman looked like she’d been drinking for two decades. That woman looked like she’d been on the move since she was seventeen.

I ain’t neva gonna look like that, she thought. I ain’t neva gonna be that woman.

Another truck lumbered down the highway but Stella did not take notice. No tears burned behind her eyes. She was thinking about how she was going to pay for her room.

David Peak lives and works in Chicago. Most recently his work has appeared in Lamination Colony, Dark Sky Magazine, and Hair Trigger. He has forthcoming work in Doorways Magazine. He believes in ghosts.


One Response to “David Peak”

  1. […] David Peak Posted by sqeditor Filed in Uncategorized Leave a Comment » […]

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