". . . that's the LAST straw—Ifya walk out the door lookin' like THAT. . . Don't be surprised one bit ta find that sucker locked whenya get back."
"But maaa," Stevie begged, "It's FRIday."
"O-ho sonny-boy, I MEAN it when I say it—just TRY me!"
Stevie was a pale-skinned pipsqueak with rigid features and a washed-out face that mellowed into a yellow jaundice that bruised blue below the eyes.
"You're nothin' but an embarrassment ifya ask me—It's alright ta be yaself and all, but I draw the line when a youngin' like you makes ah cheap FREAK outta themselves for any lil PIMP and PERV that comes by—Listen child, when you're livin' under MY roof and eatin' MY food, you can forgiddabout runnin' round like ah ten-cent floozy."
Ma's corn-cob teeth chomped viciously from her plump face as she howled.
"Dontcha ever think ah ME, your poor mother, havin' ta put up with all yer insanity—First it was them horrible tattoos—Now yer getting' yaself suspended from school fo'dressin' up like ah friggin' hooker."
Her face cringed as she went on.
"Well, it's gotta STOP—What are ya? . . . HUH?—Some kinda weirdo?—Lord have mercy on me—God knows I've tried to be ah good parent toya—But where's it gotten me, huh?—You ain't worth HALF the trouble you've caused me—YOU don't care, DO ya?—And your father, now don't EVEN get me started on that bastard—You're HIS ifya ask me—All the evil that's inya comes from that lousy asshole—Don't know why I even try anymore—Know it ain't worth none of it—I'm THROUGH with ya."
Ma leaned forward as far as she could on the sofa. Her neck flab juddered with anger and her belly quivered with grief as the migrant smoke from her cigarette trailed past her ears and up towards the ceiling.
Stevie stood across the den and jawed mockingly at her mother's furious words and fiddled nonchalantly with her make-up cache, thinking reminiscently of her new "boyfriend", Cope. Her knight in shining armor, she thought.
"Yer one ta talk," Stevie scowled at Ma. "Why dontcha get your lard-ass up and DO somethin' bout it ifya SO concerned—Haha."
She crinkled her nose and pointed it up in Ma's direction for added effect.
"BITE YOUR TONGUE," Ma cried, "There's ah place in hell fer people like you—And ya don't care one bit, DO ya?"
Stevie closed her disk of blush with a click and reached for a tube of mascara. Slowly, she began to apply the brush to her lashes, blinking widely and mimicking the strokes of all the beautiful women she'd seen in countless television commercials and movies.
"Look atchya—Don't know what anyone sees inya—You're an ugly lil bag ah bones—You got ah pimply face and ah lil scrawny ass—No shape—Nothin' but ah bony, bow-legged skeleton ifya ask me."
Ma scowled before her tone took a sarcastic turn, "OOO—But I suppose all the purty gals don't have ta whore themselves out ta any ol'piece ah trash that comes along."
Stevie rolled her eyes and waved in Ma's direction, as if to disregard any and all outside opinions. She then turned and readdressed her makeup, imagining Cope beside her or on top of her, feeling his warmth around her.
Ma stuttered, "Well—Well, What's it gonna be child?—You gonna wipe that mess off yer face or ya gonna be lookin' for another place ta stay?—Cause ifya think yer welcome here, you gotta another thing comin'—Perhaps you can find one of them gentlemen you like so much ta live with and share his bed—You'd like that wouldn't ya now—Huh? Wouldn't ya?"
Stevie giggled, shaking her head. She smiled as she batted her eyes, moving daintily through her motions.
Ma bristled lividly from the dented cushions of the couch. "WELL," she yelled, her cheeks plum-red with rage, "Answer me!"
Stevie paid her no regard and Ma's words malingered unheeded in the den's musty air.
"Look at this child of mine—You take after that beatnik father of yours—I wish the Lord had never give you ta me—I didn't wantcha, you filthy lil whore—Look at ya—You ain't my flesh and blood, NO SIR—You're ah dirty lil slut and ya know it."
Ma dropped her head into her hands. She was perspiring and the skin around her bloated jowl trembled with pain and resentment. Stevie continued her primping quietly, biting the inside of her lip and she puttered through her preparations, arranging her tartan shirt in the reflection of the window with care.
"Oh God—Oh God," Ma cried, "What have I done ta deserve this punishment—Forgive me Father—Forgive me."
She was full-fledged sobbing now, and her swollen torso began to tremble as her head hung low with her tawdry hair balding along the scalp and splattering around her wide shoulders.
Stevie's lips spread across her gaunt face into a slow-motion smile as she listened to her mother. She puckered her glossed-up lips. They glistened in the stale light of the den.
Ma lifted her head and, seeing the grin stretching across her child's face, lunged in Stevie's direction. She lashed out her nails with swipe after swipe until they breached the skin along Stevie's thigh. A wave of exhilaration rolled over Ma as she fell back into her seat. Stevie looked down in shock, examining the small wound Ma had inflicted and, seeing the damage was minimal, began to laugh.
"Whatchya laughin' at?" Ma wailed, "You're the one who looks like ah joke."
Her face was contorted sullenly and the loose meat of her forearms swung baggily from her elbow as she pointed accusingly at Stevie.
"LAUGH—LAUGH—LAUGH—LAUGH, YOU FREAK," Ma wailed, "Lord knows what elseya good for."
Breathless, she withdrew, her lungs getting the best of her, and began to wheeze as she reached frantically for an inhaler stashed beside an ashtray on the dilapidated coffee table.
"Go ahead," she coughed, "LAUGH—If everything's such ah joke to ya, LAUGH it up—But you wont be laughin' when one of yer perv friends beats ya down and leaves ya with outta dime or when you end up in the hospital with ah butt fulla AIDS—Yeah, will ya be laughin' then?—You lil whore."
Ma slipped back into the sofa as her eyes began to flutter with exhaustion and a defeated glaze came over her chubby face.
Just when Stevie thought the tirade was drawing to a close, Ma began to scream again.
"Ya got HIS nose, HIS eyes—That dirty lil smirk—You look jus like'em and I HATE ya fo'it!" She wailed as she attempted to lurch out again but could not muster an offensive.
Stevie shuffled backward and posted up against the wall at a safe distance. She began to tease her flimsy bangs all the while watching Ma out of the corner of her eye.
"It's ah GOOD THING your bastard father ain't here ta see ya like this," Ma trembled, "with those UGLY tattoos and all that smutty make-up."
Ma looked away and shook her head in condemnation as she panted and tooted from her inhaler, coughing-up phlegm in gruff intervals.
Stevie continued brushing and trying to ignore her mother who was now fully exhausted by her diatribe. She could sense the tears as they began to stream down her mother's cheeks as she watched her defiant child grooming across the den. Ma buried her face in her hands and moaned: "Why, Jesus?—Why?—I've suffered so much for so long—Please help me, Lord—Please—I'll never ask for anything ever again—I'll be good and pray every minute of every day, Lord. . . if you would just help this poor child—Please—Send me a miracle Lord—Make this child see the light, my Father. . . Please—I can't go on like this anymore. . . carryin' this heavy cross—Oh, please dear God. . . Please send me a sign and help this poor boy. . . before it's too late—Please Lord, before it's too late. . ."
Ma gradually subsided and sat placidly on the sofa, murmuring every so often as if to remind Stevie that she was in the room. Stevie continued to pick and primp; snubbing whatever sobs or sighs Ma made. She worked hard to disguise her laughter through the menial preoccupations before her in an attempt to avoid reigniting another verbal onslaught.
Moving slowly, Ma managed to lift herself off the couch and onto the support of her walker which creaked and chuffed against the carpet. Gradually, she quietly retired to her bedroom. The floorboards bowed and groaned under the pressure of her heavy frame as she scuffled across the den to her door.
Stevie listened over her shoulder patiently and only turned around once she was sure she was alone. She then went over to the middle of the den and sat down in an easy chair. She took out a bottle of nail polish and basked in its chemical aroma. She began painting each nail with deliberate precision, holding out her hand into the light after finishing each finger to watch it dry.
Every so often, she would playfully blow away her bangs and began to daydream.
She imagined her future, the one she wanted, with a handsome millionaire husband who would provide her with the most beautiful clothing and the most beautiful homes, and they would travel to all the most beautiful places on the globe together, on beautiful yachts and on beautiful planes, and eat the most wonderfully tasting foods and drink the most expensive champagnes in the most beautiful scenery. The dream went on and on and was filled with mansions and servants and everything else Stevie believed she needed to escape the horrible tortures of today. She leaned over, looking for something to catch her reflection and found one in the black window. She peered deeply into her likeness and saw nothing short of Cleopatra herself.
After a while, when her nails had dried fully and she was sure that Ma was asleep, Stevie rose and tip-toed across the den. She moved as quietly as she could and stopped outside Ma's door. She clutched the knob softly, feeling the cold brass against her fingers, and then turned the handle until she heard the latch disengage. Slowly, she opened the door.
Breathing softly through her nostrils, she entered the bedroom and found Ma laying out flat on her back, already sound asleep. Beneath the white sheets, her large body looked like a snow capped mountain as she snored and fluttered, her tongue vibrating crudely against the roof of her mouth.
Stevie slid across the room towards the dresser and found Ma's wallet resting on a dish beside a collections of pill and vitamin bottles. She snatched the wallet off the dish and opened it, stopping every other second to look over alertly at Ma's sleeping body. Rifling through, Stevie found nothing but the welfare check folded-up behind a wad of tattered prescription receipts.
Not a dime? She cursed her luck then cast a hateful glare at Ma lying level in her unconsciousness. She put the wallet back then slipped out of the bedroom, closing the door with the same sly covertness.
It was dark and rainy outside and the wet wind rattled the window pane as Stevie sulked through the den. Stirring her feet along the carpet, she rubbed her eyes and thought about how happy she would be when Cope arrived and they could finally go. Her mind wandered as she pictured the night ahead, when they would kiss and drink wine and tickle one another softly in the bed of his truck, looking up at the stars.
She giggled to herself and imagined out how nice it would feel being out of the apartment and away from Ma's cruel judgment. She planned to stay out all night and schemed how she would sneak back in early in the morning before Ma woke-up. That stupid WHALE, she thought, hehe. She puttered through the den and settled beside Ma's lonely pack of cigarettes. She drew one and cradled it between her fingers, attempting to emulate all the beautiful women she had seen in magazines. She lit it before placing it between her lips. She smoked one after the other, feeling queasy but beautiful, and waited for her knight in shining armor.
When Cope knocked on the door, Stevie shot-up and pulled up her skirt high across her gangly thighs, and then rushed over to answer the door.
"Hello there luva man," she said softly. "Cope stood plainly with a smile."
She told him she was ready to leave, but he said he wanted to hang out for a minute.
"Easy there Stevie—Just holdya horses for ah sec—We're in no hurry," he appealed in a slow molasses drawl.
"Look at you here," he said. "I like that," pointing to her tartan skirt, "Didn't think you'd get ta wear that lil number after they threwya outta Catholic school."
"O—This?" she said encouragingly, "I'll wear whatever I damn well please, Mister—Ain't no bald bishop gonna tell ME how ta dress—No sirry."
She giggled and reached out her hand, making sure Cope could see her freshly painted fingers, and began feeling up his arm.
"Got any booze fo'me, Stevie?" he asked.
Stevie stopped and thought for a moment, "Guess Ma's got some licka in the freeza," and she walked over to the fridge and made Cope a glass. He took it with one gulp and held it out for a refill. Stevie poured him another and waited as he took it. "AHH. . . it burns but it's good," he cringed. She tried to kiss him on the neck, but he looked down bluntly and nodded. Stevie smiled as her eyebrows rose. Then she pressed her hands firmly against the grain of Cope's shirt and worked them down to his belt buckle, feeling excited and beautiful, with the prettiest nails in all of Nashville.
Afterward, Cope waited outside with his arms folded and fiddled impatiently. Stevie combed her stringy hair and reapplied her lipstick, patting her cheeks sharply in an effort to bring the rouge out. Again, she fidgeted with her skirt, pulling it up and down until she was finally satisfied that she looked pretty, Like a classy woman, she thought. She turned around and grabbed her purse. Quickly, she swiped Ma's cigarettes off the coffee table and grabbed her coat before closing the door behind her.
Stevie got the feeling that they were late as she hurried after Cope who motored down the cold staircase. She felt as if she had to run just to keep up. Even though he was not the handsome millionaire man she imagined in her dreams, he meant something more to her, something warm to the touch, and real.
Everyone was having a party down in a burned-out house near Sylvan Park. The place was scheduled for destruction and Dix, who worked for the city, said it was cool. But nobody can stay over cause the crews are coming in early ta tear the place down, he said. Nobody seemed to mind as long as they had a spot to kickback for an evening.
The walls were moldy and full of holes and pink instillation hung down from the rafters soppy and wet in the damp air. The kitchen was relatively intact with lights and the counter was stocked with bottles and plastic cups. There were even a few lawn chairs and tables to sit on and relax.
Dix was fiddling with a boom box off to the side and smoking a joint, trying to get reception on the radio which crackled with static. Slowly, he turned the dial and settled on a country station which came in clear.
"Turn it UP," Mindy hollered.
Dix turned around and staggered over when he saw Cope and bragged about all the liquor he had drunk.
"Oh brotha—Bout time ya showed—Get yerself somethin' ta guzzle—Haha."
Cope took off his jacket and tossed it on the counter and helped himself to a glass of beer, knowing he would have to do some quick chugging if he wanted to catch up with everyone else. Stevie followed suit and gently set her coat across Cope's.
"Glad ta see ya waited fo'me," Cope said.
"Aww—Put up or shut-up ya pansy," Dix said laughing and slapped Cope on the back. A group of girls giggled along with Dix, nursing their cups and making eyes at the boys and puffing-out their chests.
"My-my," Dix said, nudging Cope and nodding at Sue who was gossiping in the corner of the room with some of the other girls, "Ain't she ah sight for sore eyes."
Sue overheard and looked over with a smile.
Cope smiles and agreed, "Sure is-Sure is," he said, then elbowed Marty and made a kissy-face in the girl's direction. Sue blushed and turned around.
"Well—Hey there Stevie-boy," Dix said as she stepped around the kitchen, trying her best to imitate the moves and mannerisms of all the movie actresses she had seen in the pictures.
"Ey—Hello, Stevie," Marty said.
Stevie did not reply, but instead smirked presumptively, showing her repulsion at their rude greeting and attempting to make her calm demeanor appear effortless and natural.
The girls in the corner watched her distantly and muttered mutedly among themselves, eying Stevie snobbishly from the periphery. Stevie recognized them all from school; Sue, Mindy, Lauren and the rest.
Dix grabbed Stevie's arms and led her into the center of the room.
"Ladies and Gentleman," he announced loud and drunkenly. "This here is Stevie—The most handsomest gal in all ah Nashville," and he let out a bawdy chuckle and everyone else joined in.
"Ahh, Ain't you some comedian," Cope gurgled.
"Spare me, please," said Lauren, "You certainly have some nerve." She turned up her nose in Dix's direction like a rich brat.
"Yeah Dix," Marty yelled, "Quit being such ah FAG—Haha."
Everyone laughed again and Dix smiled, keeping his eyes locked on Lauren's sullen face as she rolled her eyes disapprovingly.
"Why dontcha shut-up that chatty snatch ah yers, huh?" Dix snapped, causing Lauren's eyes to widen with disgust and shock.
"Ladies—Please," Marty interjected playfully, "This man means no disrespect—He's the truest gentleman I've ever known—Haha." Lauren threw her hair over her shoulder, flared her nostrils before returning to her group.
Dix told Marty that Lauren, "Probably just needs ah good boning I bet," and Marty shook his head in agreement saying, "Ifya want dibs brotha then its all you."
Dix smiled and pawed his gut confidently. "Don't she kinda look like Dolly Parton," Cope offered, elbowing Dix. Before he could respond Stevie interrupted and said, Her tits ain't big enough.
Marty turned and gave Stevie an up and down look then said, "O—I bet yer ah expert on that subject—HarHar." Cope chuckled and Stevie blushed.
Dix sniggered with his stoned eyes looking out lively, and said, "All right—Lemmie try this again," holding his arms above his head:
"Ladies and gentlemen," he snapped his fingers and demanded attention, "Ladies and gentlemen—Everyone say hello ta Stevie, finest Catholic gal in all ah Nashville." Then he laughed with a wheezy heave and everyone joined in again.
"Catholic?" Marty asked teasingly.
"Yeah—Catholic," Dix replied nodding at Stevie's tartan, "Dontcha see her in her nice lil uniform?"
"Ah, think we should pull it up and get ta the bottom of this mystery," Marty giggled.
Stevie gawked and turned around in a huff. She then walked over to the counter and examined all the different drinks there were to have. Dix and Marty pawed one another clumsily.
"Aww—Come on back, Stevie," Dix called, "We only playin' with ya—Don't be such ah baby."
The boys bobbled back and forth, spilling their drinks on the floor and laughing sloppily.
Marty proposed a toast in an effort to bring the others girls into the fold. "Hey ya'll—How bout ah cheers, eh?—Come on ovah."
Dix poured everyone a glass of wine on the counter. Cope passed them out and the girls moved over and joined them.
"Eww—look at that," Sue said to Cope, "Yer not tryin' ta get me drunk are ya," smiling a toothy grin and snatching her cup flirtatiously.
"O—girl," he said, "You look like ah gal who can hold'er booze."
"Well—Mister," she said, "If you say so."
Lauren still wore a disgusted expression and only sipped her toast.
Stevie posted up next to Cope, calculating her motions acutely to assure herself that she was moving in a queenly manner. She whispered into his ear, "You look really HOT tonight."
"Save it," he growled coldly and looked away.
Sue had gone over to one of the chairs and, sitting up perkily, called Cope over to sit beside her so that she could ask him a question.
Marty said, "Ask'em whatever you want, girl—You know he's gonna say yes." He chuckled.
Sue ignored him and held out her arm, directing Cope over. He walked over slowly, moving through the crowd in the kitchen and sat next to her. They shared the same seat.
"You betta watch out girl," said Mindy, "That's MY man—Ain't that right handsome?" She asked as she pulled at Cope's arm, "Come on pretty bhoy—Les dance."
He blushed as Mindy tugged on his arm. She frowned when Cope said he would dance with her in a minute.
Stevie watched the play-by-play from the other side of the kitchen, growing sullen. She began feeling depleted, but not defeated, and pretended to enjoy the song bellowing out of the radio.
She asked Dix for a drink and Dix said, "You ain't no cripple—Are ya?" So she poured herself a glass of wine and sat down beside an empty table and drank a quiet toast to herself and dreamed of that handsome millionaire man who would rescue her from all the ugliness that surrounded her, who would take her to beautiful places and give her beautiful things and make her happier than she ever knew she could be, Then—she thought—she wouldn't have to deal with these snobby stuck-up girls and these horribly piggish boys who she hated. She took a sip, then another and imagined herself running away to a place where she could be free from all the nasty things she felt she had to escape to feel loved, to live like Cleopatra, basking carefree in all of her beauty and bliss.
She stood up, telling herself that a proper lady must look her best, and found a bathroom down one of the dark halls off the kitchen. The light was out so she struck a match and held it up as she peered into the mirror, then dabbed a bit of blush across her face before the flame died.
She returned to the kitchen where Dix was telling dirty jokes: "How doya turn a fruit into ah vegetable?" And everyone waited for the punch line. "Give it AIDS," he said and belted out a hearty laugh.
The other boys joined him, but the girls simpered with Lauren leading the protests.
"Baby—That's ah funny one," Marty said, "Ya gotta laugh at that."
Stevie began to laugh awkwardly, injecting herself into the flow of the conversation, and announced that she knew a good joke that some of the boys might like.
"Oh yeah?" Marty asked.
And she told it: "One day, a young boy was walking with his father and, out of nowhere, he looks up and asks his daddy, 'Daddy, what's ah vagina?' And the father, taken aback, gives the question some thought and says, 'Well son—A vagina is a part on the female body and, before sex, it looks like the beautiful bud of a rose.'"
Stevie looked up and noticed she had everyone's attention before she continued.
"So the boy nods his head, picturing it in his little head, then asks his daddy, 'Well Daddy, what's it look like after?' And the father looks down at his son, making sure that he has the boy's full attention, and says, 'Son. . . haveya ever seen ah bulldog eat mayonnaise?'"
All the boys began to laugh, but the girls looked away, shaking their heads in disgust.
"Ugh," Lauren said.
"Somebody please tell this THING to stop talking," Sue cried.
"Just tell'er ta leave," Mindy offered.
"I've heard that one before," Dix said. There was another round of dirty jokes and the volume of the chatter began to drown out the music as everyone began to get drunker.
Stevie stood off to the side, isolated and leaning against the wall.
"Careful," Sue called to Stevie, "Don't be getting' the walls all grubby now with yer stinky mitts." She wafted her hand back and forth across her nose, as if to shoo away an imaginary odor, and giggled with Mindy and Marty.
"Heard she got tossed outta school," Marty said leaning into to Mindy's ear.
"Hey Stevie," she hollered and Stevie looked over with her smudged face. "Didya get suspended from school again?"
"Haha," Marty said, "Toldya so."
"Shoot," Mindy said, "Ain't the first time—hehe."
"Hey Cope," Marty called, "You takin' Stevie home ta night?" Sweat and drool oozed from his chin.
"Whatcha talkin' bout?" Cope said.
"Ain't you her buddie?"
"Aww," Cope replied, "You know how it is."
Marty looked over at Stevie whose eyes began to flap, "Geez Stevie," he said, "Ya better slow down with that licka so ya don't go passin' out on us."
"Worry bout yerself," she said.
"Easy there, Stevie-boy—I'm jus lookin' out for ya—Don't wantcha getting' sick or nothin'."
"Yeah Stevie," Sue called, "Don't get sooo wasted you start pukin' all over the place."
"Screw'er," Marty said and held up his empty cup, "Hey Dix—Howa bout another?"
And Dix looked up and tossed Marty a can of beer underhanded, which he caught with both hands. He cracked it open and held the can up over his head.
"Ta Stevie," he announced in another toast, "The smartest girl in the whole school. . . ump, that's if they ever let'er come back—Haha."
"Hell—She spends more time in suspension than she does in class," Sue said, gulping from her cup.
Stevie looked as though she was about to cry.
"You people are horrible," Lauren scoffed, shaking her head. She walked over to Stevie and told her not to bother with anything they said and she listened to Stevie's story sympathetically and nodded when Stevie told her that she couldn't see what the big deal was if she wanted to dress like a lady. Lauren patted Stevie's shoulder and, hiding her embarrassment, told her that she understood and that, "Life's never easy."
There was a knock at the door and everyone yelled, "COME ON IN." It was Grace and Randy. Grace was a blonde girl with curly locks that bounced and swayed as she walked into the kitchen. She had light skin and freckles sprinkled across the bridge of her nose. She had a radiance that made Stevie jealous. Grace wore a puffy canvas jacket that encompassed her entire torso and all the boys were loud and feely in their attempts to greet her as she made her way to the counter.
"Get this girl ah drink," Dix hollered, "before she shivers ta death—Randy, this is howya treat your women, eh?"
"Yeah," Marty repeated Dix's words and gave Grace a clumsy bear hug and everyone chuckled.
Grace took off her coat and let the balmy air inside warm her skin, then Randy handed her a glass of whisky and diet.
"Sorry babe," he said, "No ice in this shanty."
She took the glass and drank it down in one gulp. "My—my," Dix said in a loud nostalgic tone, "You southern girls sure know how ta drink." Grace smiled, swung her hips to the music and held out her glass for another.
Everyone started dancing and Stevie sat alone on the edge of the counter.
Sue, in her snotty voice, leaned in to elbow Mindy then asked Stevie, "What makes ah girl like you like men in the first place?"
Mindy arched her eyebrows, listening in, and Stevie said, "Whasit ta you anyways?"
"Well—Excuse ME," Sue said. She turned and grooved with the group of bodies swinging and dancing across the kitchen. She moseyed up to Cope and began to bump and grind her butt against his. Then Mindy slowly tried to cut in but Sue pulled Cope towards her and out of Mindy's reach.
Rebuffed, Mindy left the bustle and walked around to the other side of the counter and lit a cigarette. Stevie leaned over and asked to borrow her lighter. They both stood plainly watching the dancers lumbering awkwardly around the room. Stevie eyed Cope as Sue held up her empty cup and asked him for a refill. Cope smiled and took the glass and worked his way over to the counter where the bottles sat. Stevie moved up to him and told him that she was his date tonight and he hadn't danced with her once.
"Why dontcha just have ah drink and enjoy yerself," he said avoiding eye contact, "There's plenty ah time."
Mindy slipped in and offered out her glass to Cope, smiling with a twinkle in her eyes. She then walked with Cope back to the group of dancers, bumping Sue with her passing hip.
Cope and Mindy talked as they danced and Stevie watched lost-eyed from the fringe, meekly lifting her cigarette to her face every so often as the remnant trails of smoke surrounded her.
Randy came over to the counter and looked for a place to stash his coat. He poured himself a tall glass of whisky and left the bottle uncapped before he returned to the throng. Stevie grabbed the bottle, sniffed the liquid and drank a few gulps. It warmed her insides. It burned and she laughed then cringed before taking a few more.
She forgot that Cope was ignoring her and that her mother had cursed and threatened her. She sat on the end of the counter as the soft waves of alcohol carried her off into a comfortable state. She giggled to herself and twisted her toes around as they hung freely from the counter. She watched them with dumb curiosity. The look of relaxation came across her face, and she giggled again as she stared dazedly around the kitchen.
Minutes seemed to pass then, suddenly, she began to grow sad and her lips began to flutter as tears began to fill her eyes. She looked across the room at Cope with a timid adoration and tried to pull back her sobs. Leaning off the counter, she tried to step down onto the floor but her legs failed her and she fell on her bottom with a loud thud.
"Hey everybody," Marty yelled. "Stevie's wasted." Everyone laughed.
"What we tellya," Sue said. "She's gone and made herself sick."
"Watch out," Dix hollered, "She gonna upchuck."
Everyone tittered and smirked, but continued to enjoy their dancing.
"Ifya feel like tossin'," Dix said, "Just put yer head in the sink so no one slips."
Stevie looked up sheep-eyed from person to person. Her cheeks were salty with dried tears. Her thin arms trembled as she attempted to lift herself up. Once on her feet, she managed a smile and everyone cheered that she had not thrown-up.
"Get this one ah drink," Randy called. And Dix found a cup and filled it to the rim, everyone laughing and drinking and talking loudly behind the blare of the boom box.
Stevie took the glass and swigged it down before staggering backwards faintly.
"Damn," Marty said, "Look at her go—I'll have what she's havin'—Haha."
After a while, the music played itself out. The crowd of people began to disperse from the makeshift dance floor and had retired to the chairs or the floor. Girls sat on the boys' laps or leaned their inebriated frames half-consciously against the beaten walls. The volume died down and everyone began to grow tired and pale from all the drink and exertion. Some had passed out in the calmness and others spoke quietly and shared joints in groups of twos or threes.
Stevie sat on the floor with her head against her knees, fighting back the queasiness that began to well-up inside her stomach. Time trickled by and the air inside began to grow sour with sweat and fermented odor.
Bit by bit, Stevie lifted-up her head—hiccupped—and tried to distinguish her surroundings. Then slowly, she rose, wobbling on her heels, and unhooked her skirt. She let it fall down to her heels as she teetered, exposing her callow shaft poking out like a baby cork between her stringy white thighs. She stood there several moments before stepping out of the skirt and leaving it on the floor. She then gulped down another drink. Her face remained expressionless.
Everyone watched her blankly from the margins. She stumbled across the room and sat down in one of the chairs then crossed her legs to conceal herself and everyone could see the curly black hairs spiral up from the skin above the knobs of her knees. The boys looked away and sighed with revulsion, but the girls looked on with curiosity.
"Well—I'll be damned," Marty said, pretending to sound surprised.
Stevie had another drink and swayed about the room, kicking her skirt across the floor into the corner.
"So Stevie—Glad ta see ya feel at home," Dix said.
"Thank ya baaaaby," she replied, trying to sound lady-like, but the volume in her voice betrayed her intentions.
"Alright folks," Dix announced, "Guess this means it's time ta wind things up here. He began to round everyone up, tapping on the shoulders and kicking at the heels of all those passed out. Soon, everyone was up and staggering towards the door.
"Come on now," he said, "Crew's comin' in early."
Stevie wobbled around, getting in everyone's way, most simply sidestepping her as they made their way outside.
When the kitchen was empty, Stevie tottered around blankly until she found her coat. She didn't even notice Cope's jacket was gone. She put it on and wandered out after everyone, forgetting her skirt in the process.
Everyone stood out on the lawn in the dark, slowly pairing off and moving toward their cars and trucks, ignoring Stevie.
"Anyone headed my way?" She murmured half-heartedly, more to herself than anyone else.
The headlights popped on and the taillights burned softly as they trailed away. Grace and Randy were the last ones to leave as they rolled by in a Chevy longbed. They looked back in the rearview and watched Stevie shrink as they moved away, wobbling barefooted and shivering in the wet grass.
Adam Moorad lives in Brooklyn, works in pubklishing, contributes to the Huffington Post and Nashville Scene, and can be found online at The Wild Frontier.
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