Steve Anwyll

Steve Anwyll is the author of Welfare (Tyrant Books 2018) and can be found online @oneloveasshole.

JEANETTE by Steve Anwyll

I've never worn a wig before. But as she walks up to the van. I know for a fact that hers isn't on right. The netting isn't supposed to be down so far. It ruins the illusion. It makes her look insane.

But who the hell am I to judge her motivations?

Mark takes the large rolling luggage from her. He does his best to stuff it into the storage space behind me with all the other bags. A noble feat I'm sure he'll fail. Until I hear the latch gently catch. And envision our belongings shooting out the back. Scattered somewhere between here and our final destination.

The new passenger waits at the door. She's dressed in all black. 50 years of wrinkles. Back hunched. Wrists like twigs. A fog of pungent perfume. My eyes watering already. And she's only hanging in the door.

Having Emily beside me is a godsend.

Then like lightening the old woman scampers up into the van. And right back out. Surprisingly too quick for Mark to slam the door shut. She takes a step away. Paces back and forth. Snow crunching. Never breaking eye contact with the last remaining seat. Her only choice.

I start to chuckle. Emily nudges me before it turns into something deeper. The woman climbs in. Mark wastes no time blasting the door shut. The van shakes as she tries to settle like a dog wandering around a rug before it finds where it wants to sleep.

Mark gets in the drivers seat. His weight outweighs the rest of us. And the whole vehicle sinks down towards the front left. When he turns the key, the old piece of shit coughs into life. The local classic rock station plays through the speakers.

Hand me Down World about halfway through.

As the van putters through the streets. Making it's way towards an on ramp out of town. The old woman turns to the girl she's sitting beside. Extends a skeletal hand and introduces herself as Jeanette.

Oh hi, the girl near screams with cheerleader enthusiasm, I'm Julie. They shake hands. Mark pipes in from the drivers seat. Then a pretty girl I hadn't noticed. Sitting in the front passenger seat. Turns around to say her name is Beth.

The old crone starts craning her neck in our direction. As it creaks towards us I pull a pair of cold mirror tinted glasses from my pocket. Slide them on just in time to avoid eye contact.

Any small success I always say.

Emily introduces herself. And I let her do the same for me. A quick nod my only form of communication. The college kid beside me. Hiding in the shadows. Stays silent. Until prodded by Jeanette. When instead of a name. He gently emits a soft moo.

Jeanette, with the undernet of her wig pulled down to her eyebrows, looks at him like he's nuts. And I sit there stupefied. Unsure of who the bigger kook is. But it doesn't matter. Because before I can come to any conclusion. Julie asks Jeanette what she's doing. Where she plans on going.

Work, she says without elaboration. Hunh? If she takes a 2 hour rideshare to work every day she's crazier than I thought. And I'm not the only one. Beth can't hold her tongue. She asks her what the hell?

My mother has a house downtown. I stay for the week. Which makes more sense. But I'm in the back imagining a dark sitting room. A mummified mother sitting erect in an old chair. Jeanette singing softly to her as she dusts. Like nothing in the world ever goes wrong.

What do you do for a living Jeanette? Mark asks while turning his torso completely away from the road.

I'm a bouncer at a club downtown, she says like it's what we were all expecting. But it's not. And after she names the place. One notorious for patrons bleeding to death on the sidewalk out front. My eyes shut. And I see my mind explode into a million tiny bursts of light.

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Ain't it always the case.

I'm bored as fuck. Life's like that. So I fill my coat pockets with cans of beer. Drink as I cruise the streets. Stopping to look in windows that aren't obstructed. And ain't it always the case? You get caught on the last one.

The whole night going good. Then blammo. Out of nowhere. It's over. Some fucking do-gooder concerned citizen. Prodding into affairs that ain't their own. Acting tough. And as soon as they start yelling. You know you're sunk.

Like tonight. I'm standing there in the darkness. Behind these shrubs. Tall ones. I recognize the scent. Spruce. I convince myself I'm hidden here. From the quiet streets. Prying eyes. Even pedestrians.

And boy oh boy. You can imagine. I'm having a real good time. Beer in hand. Peering through a curtain free basement window. Watching this big fat fuck bastard standing in his bathroom. Shirt off. Shadows cast from a bare bulb above his head.

Makes his tits look extra saggy I whisper.

I lean in a little closer. Confident the light indoors hides me in it's reflection. He picks up a can of shaving cream. Fills an empty palm. Then grabs a blue plastic razor. Disposable variety. Holds it in his hand. He lathers both shoulders. He draws the cheap razor upwards. Flinging the used foam in the basin shadowed by his gut.

Then it happens. All the peace and quiet is interrupted. Some fucker yelling. I can't make out what he's saying. But I can't ignore it either. I turn around. Towards the street. No one in either direction. Fucking bizarre. Oh well. Maybe I'm going nuts? I am staring in people's windows after all.

But that can't be. I'm in control. So I hone in the noise like a dog. Look up. Ah ha. There's the source. Some god damned kook on a wrought iron terrace built for one. He's got both his fists wrapped around the railing. Shaking with anger. And the only detail I can make out in the dark. Is the small orange glow of a cigarette between the knuckles of his left hand.

When I look up at him. The son a bitch gets even hotter. Jumping up and down. Flailing his arms. I worry about structural stability while he yells profanities. Calling me demented. A pervert. The complete line of slander. I'm hurt. I'm not doing anything lewd. I'm only stealing a moment.

And there's no way I'm going to stand here. Take this bullshit. I've got dignity. Self-respect I think it's called. So I gulp my beer. Then yell up hey buddy, mind your own damn business. Like ain't you got a dog that needs sodomizing?

Well shit. That does the trick. Hit a soft spot I suppose. Because he kicks the posts. Rattles the rails. Thrashes his head back and forth. And without noticing. He accidently crushes the cigarette between his fingers. I watch it tumble through the air. And I forget about him. The yelling. How guilty I look.

Until I hear those words. The ones I’ve heard so many times before. The ones that hit like a knife. And break me from my trance. I called the cops you fucking piece of shit! Uh oh. God damn it! I have to get out of here. Find a way to get even with this lowlife another time. I know where he lives.

It seems like he must have a dog I can poison?

Remember that for later. Because if he isn't lying I'm running out of time. I chug the rest of my beer. Then run in the direction opposite of the main street. Down a smaller side one. It's dark. I feel safe. But I don't let false security stop me. I need to make some ground.

About a block away. My lungs catch fire. My head is pounding. I'm not cut out for this kind of exercise. But I hear a siren close by. So I double my effort. Nausea mounting. Huff and puff in overdrive. There's a park a block away from here. I'll be free and clear if can make it.

You can do it you old fuck!

And I do. Slipping on the loose gravel pathway as I enter. But not falling. Rounding a bench to dive in the grass. Hidden from the street by a high thick row of hedges surrounding the park. Even if the cops start looking for me. They'll never see me from the street. Too lazy to get out of their car.

So I roll over on my back. Check my pockets. Grab a beer. It explodes a little. I gulp half of it. Drop my head down into the grass. Stare up into the night. The beam of a flashlight waves above my head. I freeze. I hear the static of their radio. And hope they mistake me for a lump in the ground.

The light passes through the park. I stay still. It feels like forever. My blood's running cold with fear. Heart rate hitting the roof. Smiling wide. Boredom no longer a concern.

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