Slouching through the door, grey yoga pants and a hoodie under a ruddy down vest zipped up, hood up, head down. Black gym bag in the one hand and the other a quick wave for the man behind the bar, spiky black hair and a faceful of stubble, skinny arm up to wave back. Drums clatter a sashay under a popping fanfare, that’s when you know you’re close, a woman’s voice, sometimes you gotta work hard for it. Past the bar, the mostly empty tables, the tiny empty stage, brushing the column of chain at the corner of it, a gentle ring that’s swallowed by the blaring horns. A nondescript door in the shadows there, a narrow hall, dark, beyond, at the one end a door half-open on white light, papers piled atop an old grey cabinet, but down the other end a small room painted black so many times the regular lines, the dimples and pocks of the cinderblock walls are softened, blurred, shining in the light of lamps ablaze about a row of mirrors. Squeezing in, behind a woman blending red and blue in a sloppy arc over an eyelid, behind a woman adjusting a bit of white lace, down to a short red velvet chaise against the far wall. Gym bag up on the chaise, unzipped, thrown open, digging through lace and satin, feathery gauze and fringe and stiff black rubber to pull out a plastic sandwich bag, heavy with golden dust, dropped on the counter with the tubes and the bottles and jars.
“Dead out there,” says the woman mascaraing her lashes.
“Thursday morning,” says the woman gathering up her thick blond hair.
Lotion white on a rough palm sprinkled with gold. “I can take the first dance.”
“You’re early,” says the woman checking her ponytail in the mirror, arms and thigh, flank and chest all looped and filigreed with tattoos, the largest a black-letter motto arcing her belly that says Der Bauch lügt nicht!
“Weren’t you on to close tonight?” says the woman brushing her lips a thickly red.
Lotion on fingertips slender, sleek, lifted up under that hood, a sigh. “It’s Thursday.” The hood, pushed back. Black hair cut short, swept up in front, those fingers teasing a tidy stack of curls.
“You cut your hair!” says the woman tugging on a long white boot. “When did you cut your hair?”
“Weeks ago,” says the woman looking over her painted face from this angle, that. “Where have you been.”
“Right there,” she says, “right there right there, right yes there,” on hands and knees her yellow hair severely straight “fuck yes” whipped up and back, “fucking fuck yes there don’t stop don’t stop oh God don’t,” flopping to slap the bunched white comforter, hips humped back against Ysabel kneeling behind her, Ysabel leaning over her, one of Ysabel’s hands on the small of her back, “don’t stop don’t stop,” the other reached under to circle, twist, jiggle and slap, “fuck” a groan and belly heaving toes clenching head reared up and howling out she trembles shivering slumping into Ysabel’s arms about her.
Morning softly grey in the window, clouds closed high above the greening trees, the rooftops black and grey and dark wet red. “God,” a breath of a word, and a laugh, “I love,” she says, and as Ysabel breaks off a kiss to her throat, “Chrissie!” sitting up, alarmed, but yellow hair spread out on the pillows she’s giggling, “this,” she’s saying, “this, I love this, for fuck’s sake.” Reaching up a hand. Ysabel looking away. “You’re so easy to tease.”
“You shouldn’t play games with this,” mutters Ysabel.
“All right,” says Chrissie, sitting up beside her for a kiss, “then,” and another, rolling, licking, “how about,” as Ysabel slowly lays herself down, “this?” her hand at Ysabel’s opening thighs. Breaking off suddenly sitting back, hands on her own knees, “I thought you had to ask,” she says. “I thought you had to ask, before I could answer.” Head at an impish cant. “Do you want to ask? Is that it?”
“What I want,” says Ysabel, and a sigh. “Chrissie,” she says, but then a yelp as Chrissie falls on her, kissing, kissing, “I’m here,” says Chrissie, “right here,” lips at Ysabel’s throat, her chest, the slope of a breast and as Ysabel hisses a nipple, “Chrissie,” she says, “wait, please, it’s not,” her hands on shoulders, a cheek, and “Please nothing,” says Chrissie.
“I have to,” says Ysabel, “oh.”
“You have to oh,” says Chrissie.
“It’s late,” says Ysabel, a grimace, “I must get up, go shower, oh,” and a swallow.
“So like this,” says Chrissie, leaning over. Ysabel slaps at her arm, pushing, “I really must,” she says.
“Go ahead,” says Chrissie, lying back. “I won’t stop you. I’ll just,” stretching up, fingers linked, languorous above her head, “wait here. I’ll keep the oven warm. Till you come back.”
“Chrissie,” says Ysabel.
“All day, if I must.”
“All Thursday,” says Ysabel.
“Oh,” says Chrissie. “Then. I’d better make it quick?” Pouncing on Ysabel’s belly again, Ysabel gasping, laughing, and then “oh” the breath gone fluttery in her mouth, and her hand wrapped about in that yellow hair.
The little jar in her hand, the label of it worn, Villainess Soaps it says, in smudged black type, Jai Mahal White Sugar Body Scrub. Tipping it, peering into it, a faint white curl about the bottom, and otherwise empty. Setting it on the long counter marbled red and black and pocked with sinks at regular intervals under the long mirror empty but for herself, there, and down at the other end a woman wrapped in a blue towel, brushing her dishwater hair.
By the jar, the lid, the inside of it scummed over with a white paste. She pokes it, softly pliable, with a finger, then scoops up carefully precisely half of what is there to stroke one cheek, the other, feathery faded white under her eyes. Rubbing those streaks into her skin with both hands, hesitant at first, swiping up across her forehead, down her chin, her throat. Pale hair swept back, limply damp on her shoulders. Beige bra fuzzed with soft sprung thread. “Nice ink,” says the woman in the blue towel, passing behind her, eyeing the small of her back. She answers with a nod, a brisk tight smile.
Sitting on a bench before a row of lockers, the bottom one before her open, stuffed full, a swollen brown gym bag stood up on one end, a puffy pink and orange parka crammed in beside it. She’s doing up the buttons of a plain white blouse. “He’s crazy,” someone’s saying, “fucked in the head.” Next bench down, an older woman, grey sweats, phone in one hand, towel in the other, wiping her face. “The deposition’s today. He knows it’s today. It can’t be done today,” turning her broad-shouldered back, “there are laws of physics.” Four buttons left on the blouse, then three, she pauses, ducks her head, quick sniff at her armpit. A sigh. Two buttons, left undone.
Hustling across the street in that pink and orange parka, leaning the weight of the gym bag slung from her shoulder. The building behind all sharp brick corners and windows relentless, filled with idle exercise machines. Tucked away over a side door a sign that says 24-Hour Fitness, lit up in reds and blues turned richly weird by the morning gloom. A wheezing bus gathers itself, nose swung wide in a left turn beside her, she skip-hops onto the sidewalk, past the bright island of a gas station. Behind the little convenience store store a narrow parking lot, angled stalls to either side between blank white wall and a length of cyclone fence woven through with pale plastic strips. Halfway down she tries the handle of a boxy blue car only to find it locked. Tipping her head back, a sigh, letting the bag drop to the pavement, she knocks, a gentle tap. Then a pound, banging the side of her fist against the glass, “Luke, goddammit, Luke,” she says, and inside something moves, a chunk, the lock releasing.
She stuffs the gym bag into a backseat jammed with boxes, bags, a hardshell suitcase, loose books and papers shifting, “Shit,” she says. On the driver’s seat a grease-stained paper sack, yellow and red, Go-Go Taquitos, it says. She crumples it, tosses it into the back seat. “What,” says the man slumped in the passenger seat. “I was hungry.”
“Breakfast now means no dinner later,” she says, climbing in behind the wheel.
“You’re getting paid,” he says. A beard, a mustache thick about his mouth, and dark hair dribbled lankly about the shoulders of his warm-up jacket, blue and grey, unzipped over a T-shirt printed with some faded engineering drawing, a feathered wing, its armature. “Friday,” she says to him, holding out a hand. “I get paid Friday. Tomorrow.”
He looks away, frowning, digging around in his pockets. “Tell me,” he says, pressing a key into her palm. “Tell me again.”
“No,” she says, slotting the key in the ignition.
“Jessie,” he says, “dammit, just, tell me something. Tell me something about her. Tell me her name. Say her name. Just, say her name.”
She closes her eyes. He’s gripping the armrest between them, his breath a hasty bellows. “Annabelle,” says Jessie.
“There,” he says, relaxing, “that’s pretty,” as she twists the key, as the engine roars to life.
“Gotta Work,” written by Amerie Mi Marie, Rich Shelton, Loren Hill, Kevin Veney, Isaac Hayes, and David Porter, copyright holder unknown.