Chapter 1: October 14th
Standing as if she was exposed to the world, he stared at her, with an almost forced stock still smile planted on his face as if he had just won a long war whose victory had humiliated the enemy. Her bottom lip quivered and the round of her breast showed briefly as she whipped a robe around her. Soft white skin, now hidden, had only before been covered by the only pair of semi-attractive, intact panties she owned anymore. She had saved them for this; saved them for him.
She had been cleaner than she had been the entire six months of her stay. Her hair fell in perfumed locks around her robed shoulders. As she turned, like a soldier following commands, and made long, elegant strides towards the door as her eyes fell to the floor and she felt her heart break. She turned before she left, looking at him one last time. It's as if he was frozen with that smug face, lying on the bed, shirtless, one hand on the sheets across his abdomen, the other over the pillow where she had so recently lain. His cocky face did nothing to hide his good looks from her; probably why all of this started in the first place. He was everything she couldn't resist; funny, charming, handsome, and a beautiful body. A shock shot up her spine; it felt almost like a Wild West duel, where you know your enemy is so corrupt that they will shoot you in the back before you make the proper amount of steps to turn, draw, and kill one another within the rules of the game. But this was no game, this was government ordered, and she had obviously wasted her time bringing her heart into such a predicament.
Within only a few minutes she was dressed, hair piled up on the crown of her head, with her bags packed ready to go. She could still smell him on her skin.
She looked, in her dress, as good as she did when she arrived, although much thinner. She had made an effort to look nice, simply because she knew that inside she felt much, much worse. She had probably lost fifteen pounds and didn’t have a minute of tan on her. She was supposed to come here as a form of punishment, a form of community service. But all she learned is that people are assholes.
Her thoughts of the last awkward, uncomfortable and slow motion last six months were broken by the Ford Festiva pulling up in front of the complex. No motor or hood on it, simply some wood that attached to a single horse pulling it through the thick mud that everyone told her never quite disappeared after the hurricanes.
It was their entire fault, she thought. None of this would have happened; she wouldn't even be here if it weren't for the hurricanes. Who is she kidding? Hurricanes happen, what shouldn't have happened was that bourbon and breakup, driving her Mini Cooper that night. It was her fault. It was her fault she thought she was in love. It was her fault people were assholes.
The passenger door to the Festiva opened and as a woman got out, older than herself; she felt her organs rumble and burn. She hoped it was an STD. By god, at least if she gave him an STD it would be worth it. Is that why she’s been feeling so off for such a long time now? The blonde got out of the Ford, hair nicely brushed, pinned up on the sides, nice bags, nice coat, clean face. She wondered why this woman was sent as her replacement. What she did. But whatever it was, at least she was done. She could go back to her life, back to New York, back home, leaving this cesspool behind her.
“Good luck,” she said to her replacement as sarcastically and cold as she could. The new girl in town... anyways, her hair wasn’t as nice as she thought it was, kind of matted and wiry; her bobby pins and product couldn’t hide it.
Her high heeled boots were caked with mud as she went to take the blonde’s place in the car. At least the Festiva was nicer than the motorbike that brought her in all those months ago. Ironic really, because she had to squeeze herself and all of her bags onto that tiny motorbike. Now, she only had one large round hat box with a handle that held her remaining, salvageable belongings; it would have easily fit on the motorbike this time.
The door shut, barely, and the horse pulled her away. Breathing in the cold October air, the blonde pulled her scarf around her neck, watching the Festiva, surprised at how much worse it all was than she imagined. The horse driven car; what country was this? Certainly, nothing she thought would be found in her country.
Mud; everywhere. That smell; everywhere. Smoke; everywhere.
It was such a stark comparison to the plane ride she took from Portland, where everything was white, polished, cleaned, and sterilized. So different from the suits they make everyone change into these days before boarding a plane. Like white and silver space suits, the terrorists were probably laughing at the lengths America would go to in order to shut them out.
When she landed, it was in Jackson, Mississippi; a nice skyline of buildings, a pretty bridge. This is what she pictured her destination to look like, maybe smaller, of course. The city was falling apart and poverty stricken, a lot of homeless but still, the people bustled around like they would in any city really. It just looked a little more sad than normal. But where she was now couldn't have been more different. From Jackson she had taken a car, then a creepy bus, then, to her surprise she had to the get into a sad, tiny, blue Ford with rust on it like holes in Swiss cheese; really holey Swiss cheese.
Looking around she was reminded of an old sci-fi movie that was about a man ruined, apocalyptic future. At least this was partially man’s fault, right?
Mud caked everything and the air was thick; she didn’t know if it was smog, smoke, or the general depression that was making the place gray and miserable. The buildings were all lined up with a solid face, about four on each side of her until they reached the ocean in the short distance of the courtyard. They reminded her of some old settlement towns she had seen in Mike’s history books. They looked just as abandoned and would have looked just as dusty if all the dirt wasn't stuck to the ground in a thick, murky soup. There was no one in sight, but under the gray, dead skies there were piles and piles of old, rotten clothing and junk heaped up into small hills, filling most of the space between the buildings. Within them there seemed to be wire cages as well as rings of stone and log where smoking, charred, burned out bonfires seemed to have been.
The place was a ghost town.
She walked to the strip of buildings to her right, to see if anyone was inside. After no one answered her knock on first door, she tried the old fashioned knob and found it locked. The window was far too musty to see anything through other than her own eyes reflected back at her. The second building had a set of double doors, kind of like what you would see in a school gym and with success, she thought, they opened with a soft patting sound. The rubber edge of the door dragged along the ground as she pushed it open; she peered in to find a long, dark hallway, filled with music and red, decaying wallpaper with a Middle Eastern looking trim. You could barely make out the detail on it because of dust and time clinging to it for dear mercy. It was noticeably warmer inside; she started to pull at her scarf, to remove her gloves. She thought about how oddly cold it seemed here, she considered the clouds in the sky, maybe a storm was in the area and the sun’s warmth couldn't get through. The south is still warm in October, isn’t it? Isn’t the south always warm, anyways? Looking around at the state of the place, she began to think she would leave with nothing nice when this was all over.
The end of the hall brought a strange wrought iron gate, open and obviously ignored for its purpose of keeping someone in or out. On the other side, there were little round tables with little round chairs all around them. Unfortunate mismatched candles were on each of them, glowing sad, apathetic light into the dim, otherwise barely lit room.
There were two people on stage; a girl no older than twenty-five and a man on a piano, performing to an empty room, as if it was the grand finale tour of a music legend. The girl’s eyes glistened with un-cried tears as she sang, stretching her gloved hands into the air, like opera singers always did in the movies. She wore a sparkling red dress that rebelled yet conformed in all the right places to the environment inside; it was torn at the edges, loose threads, missing sequins, but the ones that were there were still shining bright. So bright, the single spot light shining onto the stage reflected off and made a disco ball effect of red tinted circles all over the room, swaying and shimmering with every tiny movement the girl’s body made.
As any woman would have noticed first, much like a man, the girl’s huge breasts heaved out of the top of the strapless gown, growing larger and deflating only a little with each breath in and out. Her voice powerful, but awkward, went into the cracking microphone in front of her. Her pale face and skin were framed beneath soft curls of brown, mousy hair, sticking to her red lipstick. On closer inspection, she looked dirty. Smudges on her were probably more obvious than they should have been, like a messy eater on a nice white table cloth. If her gloves hadn't been black, who knows what would have been on them.
The girl had been so unexpected that right as she noticed the mustached man playing a sad, upright piano that looked like it had just arrived from a haunted house, she was startled when her shoulder was touched and someone spoke from behind her. With a jolt, she turned and apologized promptly. "You must be Marian? You arrived early."
The woman was older with thick make up on her face in colors that probably shouldn't have ever been allowed near her, including baby blues and salmons. A mole was drawn on but there was no attempt to hide her wrinkles. She had an almost low, sultry voice, maybe she was sick a lot, or perhaps a smoker. She wore a silk dress with stains down the front, a fur coat that was a little too big.
"Yes, nice to meet you, I...didn't see anyone when I got here; I just found the first door that was unlocked," Marian said hesitantly.
The woman’s smile was warm, inviting and she soon noticed Marian kept glancing back over at the singing girl. "That is my daughter, Benny, isn't she just absolutely lovely? A real star."
Benny, as it was, sang a line with pure vigor during the brief moment of silence between them, but quickly the woman filled in the gap. "Oh listen to me, already blabbing your ear off. I'm Nance, sweetie, let me get you a room key and we'll get you all settled in. In the corner over there," She pointed, "There are a few of your co-workers, if you'd like to have a seat I'll be back in a jiffy."
As the song finished and Nance disappeared, Marian's trance was broken just slightly as the singer smiled a huge, toothy smile and did a curtsy. Dust swirled around in the spotlight mid air as clapping came from the corner Nance had motioned towards. Marian sat down her few bags, keeping the smallest one with her, and walked over to the only table without a candle burning on it. Two men sat, the younger one smiling and whooping applause from deep in his diaphragm out into the air, filling the room like a sports arena. So enthusiastic for the performance at hand. The other man simply clapped a few uninterested claps and continued fishing in his coat pocket.
Once she said it, she felt utterly and completely like the loser kid in class. If she could have reversed time, she would have definitely thought of something else, but instead just scrunched up her face and gave a pathetic excuse for a smile. Marian felt even worse now that the older of the two men looked up directly into her eyes. A shock shot down her spine. He had the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen. They almost seem to glimmer, flash in the light as his face turned up.
“Well hello, Marian. Are you our new girl?”
Her mouth dropped open and her utter lack of words became obvious on her face. All she could come up with was “Yes.”
“Well, have a seat then.”
Not thinking, but doing what she was told, Marian sat her bag on the table, pulled out the chair across from him and began to sit down. The young boy, still enamored with the performance on stage, started gleaming, “Oh just look at her, always such a good show.” He turned to Marian, “Did you see the show? Didn’t you just think it was just swell?” He rearranged himself in his seat almost nervously, turning his stare and giant smile back to the stage. The man said confidently, as he pulled out and lit a cigarette, “This is Frankie. He loves long walks by the sewage, feeding invisible ducks and the Benny and Rolland hour.” He smiled a crooked, egotistical half smile and took a puff of the cigarette. Letting the smoke out, he lit the dark candle in the middle of the table, almost on queue, since the spot light turned off as if planned.
“Does everyone around here’s name end with a Y sound?” The two stared at her blankly. “You know, Frankie, Benny…?”
The man exhaled another batch of smoke, “Well you just met Nance. That’s not a ‘Y sound’, now is it?”
“No, but I assume Nance is short for Nancy, Nancy with a Y sound.” If before she felt like the loser kid, now she felt like the smart assed kid; it may be on the opposite end of the spectrum, but it’s just as much of a shitty place to be.
“Nope, her name is just Nance.”
“So are you Johnny? Tracy? Barnaby?”
“Nope.” He took another drag and just looked at her, straight into her eyes.
“EEEH, wrong.” Frankie smiled and since the stage had grown dark and the performers left, the trance was gone and only the happy was left. “His name is Beaner, Beans, Bean-tron.” The boy slapped his flat hands down on the table, proud of himself and unable to contain his energy. He pulled the ear flaps of the hat he was wearing over his ears and held it there for a moment, smiling.
“So…your name is Beans?”
“No, my name is not Beans.”
“No, it’s not Bean-tron either, if you were headed in that direction.”
Marian turned to the boy, “Why are you lying to me about Beans, Frankie?” in all seriousness.
Frankie just laughed, took a fist and popped it lightly on Marian’s shoulder. “I like you, lady; they are going to like you here. You’re a funny lady.” He removed some distressed woolen gloves from his coat pocket and started putting them on, stretching his dirty appendages through each finger whole, which had been cut to make them knuckle length.
“Looks like I’m a hit, Beans.”
“The name is Bea. Nobody calls me Beans, that’s not my name.” He shot a glare at Frankie and put the cigarette out directly on the table top, not in, but next to the candle. Upon a more detailed glance, it was noticed that this must have happened many times; there was a whole gathering of tiny black burn marks all around the area, etched deeply and darkly into the wood. “Never heard of an ashtray, Bea?” at the sound of his name, she raised an eye brow and emphasized it as if she was giving a hollaback in a school yard. She realized with this inflection that she was coming onto him, perhaps a little too strongly. Or maybe she would just come off as an asshole. Either way, some men like that.
“You looked around the place, Miri? Does it look like anyone one here uses anything remotely like an ashtray or a trash can? Maybe a bath?”
“Touché.” she said, imitating his crooked smile. “It’s not Miri. Miri is short for Miriam. I’m Marian. Like Mary with an Ann on the end.” she stumbled in her words a little, “but, you know, without being Mary Anne.”
“Say, is that a name with a Y sound in it, Mary-Anne?”
She smiled, liking that he was just as much of a jackass as she. “Marian. We’re not on Gilligan’s Island, Beans.”
“Okay, Maid Marian.”
Frankie laughed and repeated the Maid Marian bit a few times, the last several under his breath with his eyes squished tight, tapping the table again with his open hand. Marian heard the clip clop horse sound of high heels and then felt the fur coat edge extremely close up behind her.
“So Frankie, Marian. Marian, Bea. Like Bea Arthur but not as much of a bitch,” Nance said as if she had it planned out, or maybe she had just done introductions a thousand times.
“Who is Bea Arthur?” asked Marian.
The three just remained silent, a smile still on Frankie’s face, beaming up at Nance, who drew in a sharp breath.
“Yeah, Nance, who is Bea Arthur? He’s the only Bea I know of, Nance,” Frankie said pointedly, yet full of play.
“Marian, Frankie will show you to your room now if you’d like. Dinner is in here at eight, so you’ve got a few hours to get settled. Feel free to walk around the complex in the meantime.” Nance pushed her bleached copper-blonde, weathered hair back and revealed a gaudy earring, clinging to her ear like an anole had bitten on and wouldn’t let go, stretching her lobe out into a thin pull of tan Play-Doh.
“Yes, feel free to look around, take in the smells and the riff raff that you’ll soon be working with.” Bea smiled, and reached in his coat pocket again. Marian expected another cigarette. Instead, he pulled out a few chocolates, putting one in front of Marian on the table and another in the gloved palm of Frankie.
“Frankie will take your bags to your room.” She handed him a key. “After dinner you can just take it easy, we won’t be really doing anything until tomorrow. We’ll talk then, briefly.”
After an awkward pause, Nance turned and walked back across the room towards a dark door frame. Marian called out after her, “Thanks.” But Nance made no notice of it. Frankie stood up from his chair and repeated, “Briefly,” in a few different voices, left the table and gathered the bags from the tile floor. Marian picked up her chocolate, stashing it in her pocket and stood up looking at Bea. “Thanks. See you around.” Bea unwrapped the foil from his chocolate and throwing it over his shoulder in a little ball, he popped the candy his mouth, giving her a nod as if she was royalty.
Frankie could be no older than twenty, Marian thought. He had little tufts of wire bristle brush hair escaping from under his cap, wore a jacket a lumber jack would own, thick boots and patched trousers. She thought he looked Jewish; he had a big nose and dark eyes. He had set down her bags after they had walked to the building over, to the lighter of the community, and entered a door and through a long hallway. He was now fumbling trying to get the key in the hole to open it. What had he done to get sent here? Was it even mandatory or were some people employees, volunteers even? She had a million questions.
“Frankie, I’m sure you know, of course, that I was ordered here by court.”
“Is everyone here ordered like that, to come here?”
“Most of us but those few who aren’t government ordered are forced to in some way or the other.” He brought one hand away from jiggling the lock for a second to sniff loudly and wipe his nose on the back of his dirty grey glove. Back to work. “Nance and her daughters.”
“She has more than…the girl on stage?”
“Yes, Benny. Oh, Benny’s just great. I watch her and Rolland’s show everyday, it’s just swell. Um…Trinny. Trinny is her other daughter. SEE? See that there!?”
Marian thought for a moment he had gotten the door open, but no, he had actually stopped working on it and was looking at her with a goofy smile on his face.
“Trinny ends in a Y sound!”
Marian’s face relaxed a little. “Yeah, so it does. What weird names for your daughters, Benny and Trinny. It’s like the land of weird names around here.”
“Frankie. Frankie’s not strange. It’s short for Francis.” He continued on with the key, sticking the tip of his tongue out of his mouth he seemed to put all his effort into it for a few seconds more before stopping. He handed Marian the key and reached in his pocket, pulling out the chocolate, throwing the wrapper onto the hallway floor, stuffed it in his mouth, and then reached back in and pulled out a bobby pin.
“So what did you do to get put here?”
“Oh, me?” The pin fluttered around in his hands as it made a connection with the key hole. “I stole my dad’s car, just a teenage joy ride. That was a few years ago. My sentence was only two years, but I’m on my fourth. I guess they found it easier for me to be gone, figured they’d keep it that way by not sending for me when my time was up.”
“Well why don’t you leave on your own?”
“Why would I want to? I’ve got family here, the best friends I’ve ever had. Unlike my parents, they actually like me here, and I like them. That’s pretty important; to like the people you have to be around.” The door clicked open, Frankie stood up, very satisfied like, from the kneeling position he had been in while talking. “First and last time I’ve driven a car! Best thing that ever happened to me!” He lifted her bags, and kicked the door with his muddy boot. Going inside, the room was dusty and there were cardboard boxes stacked around the walls, but it was an overall improvement from the other parts of the complex she had seen so far. The window was smudgy, but still bright, gray light came in. The bed had white sheets on it that, amazingly, didn’t look like anyone had been sleeping in them.
“You are lucky; the girl that had this room before you was a real clean gal. She was probably the cleanest person’s ever stayed here! She was Terra; we called her Terra-dactyl. She was a real clean lady.”
If this had been a clean freaks room, Marian knew she was in trouble. She was by no means cleaner than most, but seeing that the floor seemed to have sand all over it and the window and mirror had some kind of clear grease on them, there probably wasn’t much hope for her to live up to Terra’s expectations.
“She left this morning. Her time was up; she prettied herself up and was going home. She hit a street light.”
“Um…pardon? She hit a street light?”
Frankie blew dust off of the small dresser with the greasy mirror on it, then, while wiping it with his hand, said, “That’s how she got here. She drank too much one night and drove her car into a street light. If she had been only a few feet over in either direction it would have been someone’s apartment window or something, the judge gave her six months. It’s probably best she was leaving, she wasn’t looking too good. Maybe she was getting sick or something. For some people it’s real easy to get sick here. She was also kind of a jerk, so it’s best she was leaving.”
Marian smiled admiring his forthrightness.
“What about Bea, what did he do to get here?”
“Well,” drawing a face in the gooey substance on the mirror, “That’s something you’ll have to ask him. Terra, she’s gone, it don’t matter if I tell you her business, but Bea, he can tell you his own.” When he finished the face, he banged his open palms on the dresser, little clouds of dust went into the air and he gave a short, controlled- even stifled laugh. “Relax, Maid Marian, you’ll be just fine here. Everybody’s real friendly, it might be a little ugly lookin’, but it’s got a good heart. How long are you here for?”
“Eight months, starting today-one day down, all the way to June to go.”
“Well, welcome home.” There was an awkward pause where Frankie just stared at her, grinning. Finally, he said “See you in a few at dinner.” He clapped his hands together a few times and walked out of the door, only to open it again and sit the key inside on a cardboard box, wave quickly and left again. One more time he opened the door, reaching only his hand in again and sitting the bobby pin next to the key.
Now that she was alone, she pilfered around the room a little. She felt like she was left in a stranger’s house, or even friends, where when anyone is left alone they dig through drawers and look under beds, maybe to better understand the person who lives there or just find something funny or embarrassing. Nothing in the room of interest though, just dust bunnies and junk. She came to the mirror and looked at the face Frankie had drawn in the grease.
He seemed like a nice kid, a little on the strange side, but some of the most interesting people were. The face was actually drawn pretty well, she thought, almost like those ancient Japanese faces you see drawn, the samurais. The top knot, the eyes crossed, tongue out. It made her smile. Her own face reflected back at her, only a little distorted through the smudges. Her hair and face already clashed with her surroundings; soft and clean, even if her age was starting to show. Even given this, she didn’t mind; she still found herself reasonably attractive. Her self-evaluating was interrupted with a whoop from outside, someone yelling.
As she approached the window, she saw Bea had walked up to a young boy, very skinny with glasses and tall, dark hair. He was laughing and she could see his breath. She knelt down to peer out of the corner of the window, not only was it less greasy, but she knew they were less likely to see her staring at them. They chatted for a moment, when Bea pointed his cigarette towards the door to her building. Hmmm, I wonder what they are talking about, she thought, sarcastically. The boy made his hands into round shapes and held them up to his chest, with his eyebrows both cocked up like he was telling a big fish story.
Bea looked at the ground and then, in a quick movement, he threw a punch at the boy, stopping short. The boy flinched and laughed, pointing at him, holding his forearms to his abdomen. Bea ashed his cigarette onto the ground, and smiling they parted their separate ways, Bea down towards the waterfront, the boy into her own building. She watched Bea as he neared a pile of junk; he knelt down and opened a wire cage, raising the door, which reminded her of a rabbit cage, until it rested on top of the cage itself. Without closing it behind him, he crawled inside. Upon closer inspection it seemed as if it was actually a tunnel made of wire. As if this place couldn’t get any stranger, it just did. Not long after he disappeared from her view, crawling deeper into the cage hallway where her vision was obstructed by the epic mounds of trash in the courtyard. She heard the door of her building close, footsteps and then a crash next door, as if he had kicked a door open then slammed it behind him.
Guess he’s her new neighbor.
Marian wasn’t sure if she was suppose to answer, was he talking to her? Was he on the phone? Did they even have phones here? Now that she thought of it, she hadn’t seen one.
“Hello, Miss? I know you are in there.”
There was a long pause.
“Just wanted to say hi.”
Another awkward pause held them.
Then nothing. She sat on her bed and listened. It was surprisingly soft, the sheets seemed clean, but they smelled like another woman. Terra was it? She wondered why they called her Terra-dactyl, other than it fitting well, was there any other purpose? Did she have a long thin nose or any other feature than may have furthered the nick name? She hadn’t noticed anything during their brief meeting. She lay on the bed, kicking her shoes off onto the hardwood floor and curled up into a ball. She figured she should savor the clean sheets; they may not be that way for long from the look of things.
Almost a surprise to herself, she shouted “What is your name?”
Marian smiled at the Y sound, and pushed her face into the lavender smelling sheets.
Just like before, there was no one outside, the air was stale and chilly, clouds still filled the sky, but it was much darker and the only light was what was left over, reflecting down off the clouds. The ocean was noisy tonight. She could hear it as if she had her ear up to a seashell. The white froth jumped and danced above the concrete overhang near a dock in the distance. Was she right, was a storm coming?
Inside the double doors, down the hallway, through the gate, the room with the stage in it had a very different feel from earlier when she arrived. The stage was dark, the room was filled with people and all the red tables and chairs were pushed into an almost honey comb looking hive. Since the tables were all round, there were gaps in between each of them, leaving dark holes where the candles didn’t light up. Everyone was settling in, pulling up chairs while bowls knocked together and people chattered to one another. Walking near but stopping and looking around awkwardly, Frankie noticed her and motioned her near.
“Marian, this is everyone, pull up a chair.”
She did so, to the only open spot on the table, next to the singer and a man, like a few others, she did not recognize. As she sat, Frankie began, “You’ve met Nance, Benny and Bea,” The girl next to her smiled politely and waved almost sheepishly, still wearing her red dress, but with a brown overcoat on top. Nance and Bea nodded. “Now you know I’m Frankie. This handsome skinny fellow is Jeremy, he’s our token nerd. Next to me is the man who brought the devil to the south, Rolland. This bombshell sitting next to her Mommy is Trinny, and this handsome bearded man next to you is The Hermit.”
“The Hermit? Your name is a title?” Marian looked at the scruffy soft man beside her; his beard hanging down covering the first few buttons of his shirt, a beanie hiding his shiny bald head. He just smiled and brought his chin down a little.
“Oh, The Hermit doesn’t talk. That’s his thing. We don’t know why, we don’t know if he even can, that’s about all we know.” Frankie explained.
“So this is the new Terra,” said Benny, to Marian’s left. She had a soft voice, pronouncing things very clearly but with an almost sweet tongue; a certain articulation that made it sound like she was speaking very carefully as if English wasn’t her first language.
“There is no new Terra, not unless someone else named Terra gets sent over to us,” Nance said as she started piling beans onto a wooden plate. This is when Marian first looked at the food; a variety of wooden bowls revealed several different types of beans, one of what appeared to be couscous and a final one of some sort of bread roll.
“You guys like beans a lot,” she commented.
“Well, he’s ok; he’s not anyone’s favorite or anything. Except for the ladies, the ladies like him ok. Oh, wait, were you talking about the guy or the food?” Frankie said, laughing at the end and tapping his brow bone with his middle and index fingers.
“Everybody likes beans; you got a problem with beans?” Bea asked, looking her in the eye, “We like beans because it’s a lot of what we got. We can’t eat stuff we don’t have, unless you have an amazing imagination.”
“Oh, I do,” Marian cooed and if there had been any tension at the table before that seemed to lighten the load.
“Let’s see if imagination can fill your belly,” Bea said with a smile and everyone began doing the best they could of filling their plate with what was there. The beans were good and the bread was dry and stale.
“So, what brought you here, Marian, did you rob from the rich and give the poor? We like that type of folk here,” said the Frankie proclaimed bomb shell next to Nance. Trinny, was it? She had a dirty face, bright red lip stick and what she was wearing was almost rags; a torn and stained t-shirt, a dingy brown jacket, scarf and what appeared to be a very dusty aviator’s cap, complete with ear flaps. She was very pretty, as was her sister, but Marian didn’t see the resemblance at all; maybe Trinny to her mother, but none at all from Benny. “No, I was ordered here, court ordered. Community service they call it.”
“Well no shit, Sherlock, for most of us that’s the running theme, but what did you do? Where’s the dirt?” Jeremy said, the voice she recognized as her next door neighbor. Up close, he looked even younger; pale skin, big black rimmed glasses, and hair that stood up into a pompadour that was surprisingly well kempt and shiny. He was skinny, like everyone here – except The Hermit, somehow he managed to be more filled out than the others. But he was still pale, like everyone else.
Seeing that she was uncomfortable and seeing an opening for slight chivalry, Bea, who was leaning back balanced on the back two legs of his chair with his hands on the back of his head, responded, “Now Jeremy, you might want to use some courtesy, get to know the lady, buy her a drink before you start diving into her past,” there was a pause, “Like a jerk.”
Bea sat forward putting his chair down on all fours and the group around the table eased into chit-chat and by now everyone’s mouth was filled and people were happy. The plates were wooden; some people ate with chop sticks and the candles burned lower.
The double door shut, but no one made any notice and everyone kept talking. After a few minutes, an elderly man shuffled through the black gates, everyone shouted at him with enthusiasm.
“Reggie! The hardest working man in the place,” shouted Frankie with a smile.
“He’s also as old as dirt,” Jeremy said, eating the last of his beans out of his bowl.
Reggie smiled and turned his happy, wrinkle filled face, black as charcoal, shinning with sweat and grime, towards everyone at the tables. He lifted his trucker cap to everyone and said “Nah, dirt’s got about five years on me.”
The old man’s face cracked into a thousand different folds as he grinned a jack o lanterns smile. Frankie stood up, gathered one of the lounge chairs from a nearby and pushed it into the grouped tables and assisted Reggie into his seat. He was old, weathered and fragile. He shook when he ate and wore a pair of scratched glasses, he chewed with much difficulty. His teeth were in poor condition, but he smiled and spoke with a happy air, laughing and cracking jokes.
The ability people have to make a home is usually underestimated. Family is taken for granted. The reserve people have to take in their surroundings and make best with what they have can be astounding. People associate happiness with a monetary wealth, with the quality of things you own. People couldn’t be more mistaken.
Rolland had been the quiet one, sitting with his chair backwards. He had laughed every now and then, but pretty much just stayed attentive to his food. Marian guessed he was thirty, thirty-five maybe; younger than herself for sure. He had short brown hair, a simple mustache, and he was a good looking man, Marian thought. He certainly seemed different off stage though. He was so full of life, playing and moving, but here he simply ate almost sheepishly. “Rolland, how long have you been playing the piano? I saw you playing when I first got here, it was very good.”
“A good long time,” he replied, and that was all. He stared into his bowl and Marian felt the door shut and knew she was not welcome.
“Don’t be so rude, Rolland, there is no reason for it,” Nance said.
“It’s not Marian’s fault Terra left, she would have come or gone either way-you know how they like to schedule them on the same day, one ride, less money spent. It’s nothing new,” Jeremy said, through a full mouth and ending with a sip of dirty water.
Rolland stared at the ceiling a moment with his hands folded, then with a sigh he took a last swig from his mug, stood up and after grabbing a bag from beneath him, left the room into the hallway. Benny called after him and quickly left the room as well.
“He’s just upset because he liked her, Terra, I mean. She left this morning but he’s been upset for a week,” Trinny said with the love for gossip in her tone. Marian noticed Bea’s eye brows raised at the sentence.
“So, Benny, she’s not…?” Marian couldn’t bring herself to finish the sentence for fear of being rude, but she wouldn’t have been able to anyways, as Frankie would have interrupted her.
“NO. No, she isn’t. They are just good friends, they play together, on the stage; on the stage only.” He seemed to be correcting himself. “They are more like brother and sister, no.” It was the first time Marian saw seriousness in his face. He wasn’t scary or anything, but his demeanor certainly changed; down to his core he believed what he was saying.
“Why don’t you just ask her out already?” Bea asked. Trinny smiled into her plate as if she was trying to hide it.
“No, no, no. That’s not necessary, it’s not…it’s just not going to happen,” Frankie said, easing back into his normal self.
“Well, anyways, Benny’s going to find a rich man, she’s going to get out of here, she’s going to sing in Hollywood!” Nance said with aspiration in her voice.
“What am I gonna do, Mama?” Trinny said, sounding like a kid who wanted the same story read over and over again.
“Honey, whatever you want to do. You don’t have a discernible talent that I know of, you don’t have any serious interests or hobbies, I figure there’s got to be something out there for you, and you just don’t know what it is yet,” Nance said, almost with her nose in the air. Trinny sank in her chair, pursed her lips together. Marian thought it was a little harsh to speak so highly of one daughter but bring the other one crashing to Earth with such a bang.
“Trinny-Penny, you’re gonna be something great, like a model or something, you’re gonna make lots of money and buy me a house to retire in!” Reggie said with conviction. Trinny smiled and beneath the dirt and ugly clothes, Marian realized how very pretty she was; bright Caribbean blue eyes.
Jeremy pulled off Trinny’s hat. She reached for it like little kids playing keep-away. He handed it to The Hermit, who put it on his head over his own hat and got a crazy smile on his face. Laughter sounded, and Marian felt beyond the dirt, mud and tragedy; she felt this was a warm place, even though it was beating into the heart of winter.
Benny came back in the room, sat down and began finishing her food.
“He’s moody, he’ll be fine. And he didn’t mean it you know; he’s normally a very funny person. A dark funny,” Benny had a slight pause here like she was looking for the words, “A jerk funny, but still funny-funny.” Everyone laughed in agreement.
“He liked that girl and she just wouldn’t have him, she just wasn’t interested. Poor boy, it’s a real unfortunate love to fall into,” Reggie said. He spoke like what Marian had seen on TV; the Cajun, Coon ass, the locals, the people that used to live here before it all happened. He sounded like old movies with great music and dancing, where, much like this, she realized, people seemed poor in wealth but happy in life.
“I think Terra may have been a lesbo,” Jeremy said, and some people laughed; some did not.
“Just because you are not interested in a guy who’s interested in you, that does not make you a lesbian, Jeremy. That would make every girl here a lesbo for not being interested in you!” Trinny said with wide eyes and a smile. Her blonde hair was short and curly, she looked like one of those movie stars from the black and whites, Marian thought.
They finished up the food, telling Marian about some of the people the government has sent there in the past, for community service just like her. She learned Jeremy was one of them too, as well as Rolland. Jeremy had another two years to go before he would be allowed to leave, although she hadn’t yet learned what he did to get there. Rolland’s time, like Frankie, had been up already, about four months ago. He had chosen to stay, if you hadn’t guessed, because of the girl he liked. Now that she was gone, he was planning to leave any day.
“He’s getting a letter together for a runner to take to the border, so he can try to get his family behind him for getting out of here,” Bea explained.
“What do you mean a runner? Why can’t he just…go?” Marian asked.
“Boy, you guys on the mainland really don’t know anything about us down here, do you? Must be a real shock from what you see and hear on the news, what you were told you were coming here for, isn’t it?” Jeremy said with what could only be described as half snide, half amazement.
“Honestly no, I’m sure you hear this from everyone that comes through-they don’t show us anything like what I’ve seen since this morning, I was a little shocked, to be honest,” Marian said as truthfully as she could muster. After a little more discussion, it was time to clear the table. “Where is Pips anyways?” Frankie asked, directing it towards Nance.
“It’s his day off, he’s gone home,” she replied coldly.
“Day off? It’s not his day off,” Frankie said, not arguing, but very matter of fact.
“It’s his day off because I said it’s his day off. He had some things to attend to at home. He’s just a boy, after all.” She was still wearing the silk dress, a sea foam green that looked like it had at one point been very pretty and nice. The fur coat was missing patches, matted in areas and still shiny and nice in some. Nance’s blonde hair was teased in sections as it was piled onto her head in a rat’s nest. Her makeup was still thick, her ear lobes still stretched; as much as it was strange she was dressing this way, Marian couldn’t succeed when she tried to picture her in any other way. She couldn’t say the same for Bea; she could picture him in other ways.
Nance filled her arms with the wooden dishes and Frankie got up to assist her. Marian liked Frankie; he seemed genuine, helpful. She liked him because he didn’t seem to do these things because he thought he was expected to, he did them because it’s just what he does. Nance told him thank you, calling him Francis, like a mother would call a child by his first and middle names. With their arms filled, Bea sat like he was in a restaurant waiting for his dishes to be cleared for him. He took out a cigarette and as he brought the lighter up to the tip of it, Frankie leaned over, spilling a little water from a cup and blew out the lighter just as the cigarette was about to catch. He went upright, laughed and stamped his feet on the ground a little and Bea reached around and grabbed his arm, shaking it causing a mini earthquake of dishes grinding on one another. Nance shushed them while Reggie laughed at the spectacle.
“Don’t you know, Beans? Hasn’t anyone ever told you that those things kill you? It’s not like they haven’t known that for, like a bajillion years,” Frankie said, a smile as wide as a city street.
“Really? This is the first I’ve heard. I couldn’t imagine such a thing,” Bea said very monotone, lighting the cigarette and puffing on it like it was medicine, “What do you say you take care of those dishes, farm boy, and I’ll go start a fire you can’t blow out?”
“As you wish, maybe then I’ll smoke you in a game of Go Fish like a giant man shaped cigarette!” Frankie said, nearly dropping some dishes onto the floor, following Nance into a door with a curtain over it to the right of the stage.
“Do you smoke, Marian?” Bea asked.
“No,” she replied.
“Hey, what do you know, neither do I,” he responded, taking a puff.
By now, it was very dark and very, very cold. Outside they had lit one of the bonfires, making a giant glowing center of warmth with logs around it and three quarters covered by piles of clothes and junk. As Marian sat down, her skin feeling as if it was coming back to life, she touched a piece of fabric jetting out of one of the piles. It crumbled in her hand.
“What’s the point of this, like, what do you do here?”
“You’ll see soon enough, I wouldn’t worry about it,” Nance said, standing above her, warming her ring laden hand. Marian noticed she had long fingernails that looked like mini claws. How had she not noticed these when she was eating? They were like small talons reaching out for their pray, or like a witch about to cast a spell.
“Alright, you kids don’t stay up to long, we have actual work tomorrow. I know, I know. When you go back to your rooms, dust off a dictionary and look that word up, it’s been so long you might need a refresher.” And with that, Nance sauntered away to the first building, the one that Marian had tried when she first arrived. Reggie said his goodbyes too, and carrying a bag with some small boxes in it he left towards the road, walking at an old man’s pace.
“Where is he going?” Marian said, not even meaning to.
“Reggie? He doesn’t live here like the rest of us. Well, him and Pips don’t live here. They actually get paid and stuff,” Frankie said, situating himself on the ground with his lower back against a log. He had laid out an old shirt he pulled from the pile behind him to sit on. He warmed his hands and continued to tell Marian about how some people here get paid, and those people don’t actually live there. Everyone else, for the most part are community service folk just like her. Now whether they decided to stay after their time was up - that was up to them; Nance wouldn’t ever force anyone to leave.
She learned that Nance had started this place, ‘The Salvation Waterfront’ they called it, and herself and her girls were not volunteers but not really employees either. They kept what small amount of money they needed to live; the rest went into feeding and keeping the place going, and to the community, of course. That’s why the government sends her ordered workers.
Supposedly, they gathered clothes, food and products by donations from the mainland and supported the Dead Zone with what they received. It was supposed to be the shining beacon of hope for the Dead Zone, but as the graffiti has said for years, “Hope is not a Plan.” The problem was that these donations didn’t really come in; people of the mainland thought of this place just as its title says, dead. Full of people who chose to stay; a bunch of hopeless thugs, criminals and good-for-nothing’s running around raping and stealing. America’s racist fears and phobia of the poor were never more prevalent than in the Dead Zone. What better way to get rid of something and make people forget all about it? Well, for America, it’s to ignore it. At least that’s what the people around the fire told Marian.
She asked why they continue to stay, if there were no donations, what are they doing here? This is where everyone acted kind of sketchy. The only thing she could really get out of anyone was Frankie, who said, “I just do what I’m told; I keep food on my plate and a bed to sleep in. I just scrape the molds and fire up the kiln.”
Marian told them about her trip here. The sanitary plane, the ride here in the Festiva; about the things she saw. The streets were full of mud, when they weren’t mud streets. The people were skinny and most of them were black. Everyone looked older than they probably were, she assumed. Most of the buildings were half destroyed with noticeable watermarks all over the walls, debris everywhere; it was obvious that in order for the horses, motorcycles and go-carts she saw to get through, they had simply pushed the debris off the road into piles making trashy castle walls all over the city. “Why don’t they try to do something with it, why don’t they remove it?”
“Where would they put it? I don’t know where they would put it,” Trinny said, staring longingly into the flames like she was watching a sad romance movie.
“There is no where to put it. The whole city is a dump. Every house, every building, every tree turned into trash because of the hurricanes. It’s not like a one storm clean up,” Bea said, “I mean, the first storm was bad enough, the clean up was obviously mishandled, swept under the rug maybe, but people who were around back then, I don’t think they’ll ever forget how horribly mishandled it all was.”
“Maybe if they had done something differently, if it hadn’t been a double disaster, maybe the other storms wouldn’t have been so devastating,” Jeremy leaned in towards the fire, “Maybe there would have been hope. Hope is such a bittersweet word to use. I remember how I felt coming here for the first time, like you did today.”
Jeremy told her how him and some friends had broken into their high school’s computer lab on a Saturday and stolen three desk tops. “Stupid, stupid, stupid,” he called it. Upon his arrival, it was right before the last storm that was supposed to be another big one, the fourth one. It was about as dark and foreboding as he could imagine it, he said. He hasn’t seen it that bad since and would find it hard to. His first night here he did nothing but sit I his room and listen to the sound of apocalyptic rain. Marian asked how Bea got here.
“Well that’s the mystery now, ain’t it?” he said with a smile, fishing in his pocket for another cigarette. He leaned in towards the bonfire, sticking it in, but the fire ate up half of the stick. “Damn it!” he said, rather calmly, oddly.
Frankie lit up at the site of this, face beaming shaking his head, saying “It’s a sign, it’s a sign!” He made a cross with his two index fingers and continued, “No more of those voodoo sticks, no more! The almighty fire has spoken!”
The conversation went back to the Hurricanes; Katrina. Enisa. Rianna - all women of destruction. They came in, had their way with the land and moved on into nothingness.
“I read those three names are hardly used anymore, you know, for babies and stuff. Even for pets they aren’t really used anymore,” Benny said, “But one day I’ll bet people will forget and start using them again. I mean, there are still kids running around named Adolph, Joseph, Charlie and George right? People so easily forget.”
Marian found that she liked listening to Benny talk, she had a slow, articulate rate of speech, and she wished she could listen to her on audio books all day. “I do remember when Enisa came, I was in Tennessee and I was only five years old. I remember the people on the busses and my kindergarten teacher talked about them, like they were animals going to a shelter. Nobody wanted them. They were so sad in their eyes. I didn’t quite understand it then, but I do remember how sad they were in their eyes.”
The conversation took a sadder route as they recalled what it had been like for them, when it had happened. Benny, Trinny, Jeremy and Frankie were all very young; none of them had been in the area when it happened. Bea told her that Reggie had lived here his whole life; he was here when it happened; he never left before, and he never left after. His family was here, this was his home. “He always says he doesn’t have anywhere else to go.”
Rolland and The Hermit walked up, with a nod a few of the others greeted them and they joined them around the fire. “Where were you, Rolland, when the storms hit?” Bea put the light on Rolland, in case the story turned to himself again.
“I was in Haiti for two of them, I don’t really remember about the first. I remember hearing about it, but not really anything special. You know, some people died, a hurricane came, flooded some shit. That’s how the world works.” He took off his boots and socks, propping his feet up on the tops of his boots; his skin was wrinkled on his toes like a prune.
“Hermy, what about you?” Bea said.
The Hermit just smiled and looked at him with crazy eyes.
“One day, you are going to let it all out. You are going to stub your toe, and you’re going to burst,” Jeremy poked.
“Yeah, I bet he’ll have a real high voice. That’s why he doesn’t talk, he embarrassed that he sounds like a girl. Must be depressing; big guy, big beard, scary bald head, sounding like a tween.” As he said it, Frankie illustrated each of these characteristics with his hands and by making faces.
“I’m not even sure anymore if he can talk. There have been so many times I think he would have slipped if he was able to,” Jeremy argued.
“I don’t know, I think he can talk. Look at his face,” Trinny said, “Look at it. He has a light in those eyes. It’s like he’s just messing with us.”
“One day, Marian,” Benny began, speaking eloquently and softly, “The Hermit just walked up, started helping with some shoveling Reggie was doing. Just picked up a shovel and started working. He helped Reggie for the rest of the day, not saying a word. He’s been here ever since.”
“Self-imposed community service,” Frankie added.
Bea took some candy out of his pocket and the faces around the fire lit up even more. He passed some around to everyone, and treating it like the holy sugar it was. Everyone slowly opened them; some smelled them before dropping the mints into their mouths. During this everyone sat quiet, all you could hear was the wind, the fire spitting and the clink-clinking of the hard candy hitting teeth. After a few minutes, a crunch came from Frankie and everyone laughed. Marian didn’t quite know why it was funny, it just was.
“Man, I always lose!” Frankie yelled.
“Where is your self control, Francis?” Benny said, staring at him, and then crunching into her mint. Everyone else followed suit.
“Marian, did they let you bring any candy?” Trinny questioned.
“Well, they gave me a little list of things to bring, I thought it was weird candy was on it.”
“So you did, you did bring candy then, what kind? What kind did you bring us?” Trinny said excitedly.
“Well, its October so I found candy corn.”
The group went into chatter, someone commenting that candy corn didn’t look like corn at all and wondering why they called it that, someone else saying it’s fun to shove them on your teeth to make fangs.
Frankie commented, “Or a wolf man, like this!” He put his index fingers on his chin, pushed his bottom lip down in a scowl and imitated a wolf man with his fingers as lower canines. As it died down, Bea was staring at Marian, he said “Let’s save it for Halloween then. It’s only a few weeks away and I have a little candy left from Terra’s departure.”
It was awkward for a moment, almost sad, but then it was broken. “It’s been so long since I’ve had candy corn. I remember what Halloween was like on the mainland, I was very young, but I remember it,” Benny said, “The air just felt different. The school we went to, Trinny, do you remember what they used to do?”
“No, Benny, I didn’t go to the same school as you. We met here, do you remember?” Trinny looked at her with understanding eyes.
“Oh yes, I remember. I guess our schools, when we were together, they didn’t do anything like that. Well, back on the mainland, in Tennessee, my school would change the names of the cafeteria menu just for that day. French Fries were witch fingers. Pudding was magic potion. Do you remember Trinny? Did your school do anything like that?”
“No. No they didn’t. But it sounds amazing.” Trinny said, staring at her sister as if Benny were someone she was taking care of.
“Well I was very little when I left there and met you, I don’t remember too much about the mainland, but I do remember that. That and candy. I wish there was more candy here.”
Marian asked why they didn’t meet until Benny was six, was she with a divorced parent, where they half sisters?
“We are sisters, but we’re not blood sisters. Not in the genetic sense of the word,” Benny said, nodding to Trinny, her lipstick shining in the fire light.
“My Mama and I had come to the Dead Zone; well it wasn’t the Dead Zone back then, not yet,” Trinny added, “But it was bad. It was one storm away from being the way it was now. It was horrible for a little kid. We met Benny on a street near that one that used to be famous, with all the people and the voodoo. She was covered in mud, looked like a stray puppy. The rest is history, we just kept her.”
“Now why Benny and her mother dress like they have somewhere to go, no one can tell you.” Rolland said, wiggling his toes and sitting a coffee mug with a painted rainbow on it close to the licking flames.
“Well why not? This might be the only place in the world no one is telling you where to go or who to be. How to dress and that you can’t go for a ride in a car whenever you’d like,” Frankie said; a little defensiveness in his voice.
“They can’t tell you not to go for joyrides because there are no cars, Frankie,” Bea said. When Marian looked over, he had built a little pyramid out of mud, a little stick was poking out the top of it, the candy wrapper stuck on top of the stick like a flag.
“The City that Care Forgot. Not a truer statement has been told,” Jeremy said, throwing his candy wrapper into the flames, and after a moment of silence, he got to his feet. “I’m crashing, see you guys tomorrow. Let’s do it all over again.”
Goodnight mumbled through the group and one by one over the next half hour people started to trickle off; next Frankie, then Benny, followed by The Hermit. After a good long conversation about Marian’s mainland life, where she revealed her mom was a school teacher and her father was a factory worker, Trinny had heavy eyes and finally excused herself and like Nance and Benny, she walked into the darkness of night towards the first building, which upon closer inspection reminded Marian of an old barbers shop.
“So, Beans. I understand you don’t want to talk about how you got here, but surely how long you’ve been here wouldn’t hurt now, would it?” Marian asked half expecting a snide answer and a half smile. To her surprise, he answered, “Twenty-six years, on and off. I leave sometimes. We’re not supposed to leave, you know. Once you are here, you’re here for life, that kind of thing. I grew up here, kind of, my mom lived here and my dad lived in San Francisco. So summers and stuff I’d come down to the Big Easy. I always liked it; the culture, the people, the color. Swamps, gators and food. It’s hard to resist. Sure is a different place now.” The last few words trailed off as he turned his head and entered a coughing stint. His fist raised, eyebrows furrowed, eyes closed.
“Maybe Frankie is right, that cough’s going to get you into trouble; doesn’t look like you’d find anyone to treat you for that around here,” Marian said, half wanting to offend him, half wanting to test his waters.
“Yeah, there is. It may not be as pretty as what you had in Portland, but it’s there. Frankie’s right, I know it. I’m not one of those idiots who try to say it’s good for them. It will probably kill me one day.”
“Comforting. You ever tried to quit? I did.”
“No, I used to. I quit when I was thirty. I just one day saw myself and realized I looked ridiculous.”
“Well, I know it. I’ve tried. One day I’ll reign victorious, I promise, Mom.”
“Don’t ever call a lady you just met Mom.”
Ignoring her, he continued, “Not that that was a disclaimer or I’m trying to take it back, but I don’t think this cough is from smoking, I think I’m coming down with something. I’ve felt that tingle in my throat since this morning; first sick of the season I guess.”
They sat for maybe half an hour more; Bea going through the last cigarette of his pack, snuffing it out in the mud and leaving the butt behind. Marian told him that no one seemed to really care about picking up after themselves or trying to make things look any nicer.
He told her that, “It’s all part of the process, it’s what’s gotta be done in order to make things better.” This didn’t make any sense to her, but she nodded, getting too tired to argue. They talked about San Francisco, they talked about Portland. They talked about how when Bea leaves, how he gets from the Dead Zone into the mainland. How he always thinks he’s going to get shot.
“But being a white guy, if I can’t sneak by, I can usually figure something out. They never really seem too suspicious, surprisingly. If I were any other race that story would be very different, I’m sure.”
With the fire beginning to die down, they were to head their separate ways.
“Shouldn’t we, like, toss some mud on the fire or something? Aren’t you scared your massive piles of nasty might catch?”
“No, they won’t, besides, that would take a lot of mud.”
“Yeah, looks like you have some to spare, it’s everywhere. On everyone.”
“Nah can’t waste the mud. Goodnight my fair maiden.”
And with that he strolled off, hands in his pockets. As Marian approached her building’s door, she looked back to see Bea entering that same cage he had earlier before dinner. When back in her room she realized that no one had showed her the bathroom. She wandered around the cold hallway for a few minutes after battling her room door to open and lighting a candle, looking in some of the rooms trying to find a sink, a toilet, anything.
Finally, after dusty dark room after dusty dark room, she found it. It was obviously not of use. It looked like a mud man had been murdered in it, exploding mud guts everywhere. She took a deep breath tried the sink faucet; nothing. Just leaves stuck in the ceramic bowl and bugs on the wall. She wasn’t even going to try to open the toilet. The bathtub, was it even worth testing? It obviously hadn’t been used in decades, perhaps. But, she did it anyways. Pipes howled and sounded like animals in the distance; she quickly shut them off. This mirror was, too, covered in grease. She touched it, smelled it. Seemed something like Vaseline, smelled a little like Vicks Vapor Rub.
She realized more than ever, why everyone was so darned dirty.
Back in her room, she put the candle beside the bed on the nightstand, undressed and blew the flame out as she sat down. The moonlight was shining through the clouds; everything was a beautiful shade of blue-silver. But that wasn’t what caught Marian’s eye; there was movement outside, all she had to do was stand up. There was someone crawling out of the cage, they had thrown something around and on top of it before pulling themselves out horizontally. Marian ducked and crawled over to the window like she had earlier the same day. Why did she feel she had to hide? Maybe this time it was because she was in her underwear, but last time she didn’t have that excuse. She watched, and as she guessed, it was Bea.
He was out now and straightened up with his head down he brushed off the legs of his pants. When he turned to retrieve what he had tossed on the top of the cage, she saw that he had no coat, shirt, scarf or anything. Half naked he was sweating and it was his coat and shirt he had thrown out before him. He picked up his scarf, wiped his arms and chest off with it, and then unexpectedly threw it with all his might into one of the junk piles. He watched it fly, stared at the moon a few moments, and rifled through his coat pockets with his back to her. He turned around with his back slightly arched, poking his belly out; if you could call it a belly at all.
He was more svelte than Marian had expected. He took a long drag of his cigarette, the cherry breaking the color scheme of the blue moon. He did this several times, once he even brought his arms out, like Jesus on the cross, then waved his wrists around like he was the composer of an orchestra, complete with little head movements. After that it was one more long drag of the smoke, then he began putting his shirt and coat back on. Sooner than later, he was dressed and gone, off towards the other line of buildings across the way.“This is going to end poorly,” Marian thought to herself as she stood up and was for the first time conscious of how cold the floor was. She hurriedly tip-toed back, like a child on Christmas morning, diving under the covers and pulling them up to her chin. Underneath the blankets, she removed her bra and replaced it with the t-shirt she had been wearing under all her layers that day. She stared at the stained, watermarked ceiling for a only a few minutes before she slipped into sleep, to dream pleasantly and sink her heavy head into the strange pillow, in a strange room, in a very, very strange place.